Parable of the barren fig tree

In Luke chapter 13, Jesus gives this parable of the barren fig tree: 

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?" He replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down." ( vv6–9, NRSV)
"The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree" by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

What is the meaning of this parable? Dr. Joseph Tkach, former Grace Communion International President, offers the following explanation.

I have seen that many assume the vineyard owner is God the Father. Rather, the realization struck me that Jesus is talking to humanity here referring to each one of us as a vineyard owner. Since the vineyard owner in the context of the story seems to be mostly absent it, I have great difficulty with such a representation of God who is omnipresent. Perhaps an ancillary lesson in the parable is for us not to judge our neighbors because they might be bearing plenty of fruit that we don’t see without being fully present in their lives. 

Another factor I cranked into my thinking about this parable is the law of the first fruits found in Leviticus 19:23-25. I first became aware of it through my parents' practice with our family garden at my grandparents' backyard. This Old Covenant law required no fruit to be eaten from a tree over the first three years. Moreover, in the fourth year, the fruit is to be offered to God. Here's a noteworthy speculation since the parable itself is lacking in detail. The laborer in the vineyard may have been disposing of the fruit in secret to prevent the vineyard owner from violating this law. The vineyard owner would have been oblivious to the possibility of the tree having been bearing fruit all three years. If that was the case, the laborer could confidently say that the tree would fruit in the fourth year. 

Some interpret Jesus as being the vinedresser and that may be possible. He would know the complete status of the tree's ability to be fruitful. As the Word of God incarnate, Jesus is present to everyone in the world – to each one of us vineyard owners. He would certainly know the level of growth and fruit development of every tree and vineyard in existence. He is omnipotent as well as omniscient.

Given the brevity of the parable, for me it takes on a mystical quality. And since it follows the question about the sinner status of the Galileans who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (see Luke 13:1-5),  it certainly must be an expansion upon Jesus saying in response: "I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." 

I have seen that the two most common interpretations of this parable are these: first, that Christians must bear fruit or risk being condemned by God; and second, that Jesus will intercede on our behalf offering us grace despite our lack of fruit. While I won't quarrel with either of these interpretations, one cannot help but notice that it places God in the shoes of the vineyard owner implying in some way that our works are a meritorious part of our salvation. 

We know Jesus was not teaching salvation by works. And we know that the Holy Spirit works in us to produce good fruit. Accepting that Jesus is the manager of the growth of fruit in our vineyard, he offers sage advice to be patient before making any final decision.  The point I internalize from this parable is that we can sometimes hang on to the things that separate us from God. We can err in punishing ourselves and not allowing ourselves to see the goodness we were made for. And as we consider the need of our repentance, we should not ignore the fact that it is not something we do very well. We all fall short and should recognize that this is why Jesus was baptized on our behalf. He had no sin and had no need for personal repentance. He did that for our benefit, just like everything else he did and still does for us.

As Robert F. Capon explains about Jesus:  "He does not come to see if we are good: he comes to disturb the caked conventions by which we pretend to be good. He does not come to see if we are sorry: he knows our repentance isn’t worth the hot air we put into it. He does not come to count anything. Unlike the lord in the parable, he cares not even a fig for any part of our record, good or bad. He comes only to forgive. For free. For nothing. On no basis, because like the fig tree, we are too far gone to have a basis. On no conditions, because like the dung of death he digs into our roots, he is too dead to insist on prerogatives. We are saved gratis by grace. We do nothing and we deserve nothing; it is all, absolutely and without qualification, one huge, hilarious gift.”

As Capon said in another one of his writings, "The shipwreck of history drags on unchanged and unchangeable now. And the only bridge between the now in which our times are triumphantly in his hand and the now in which they are so disastrously in our own is faith. The accomplished reconciliation can only be believed; it cannot be known, felt, or seen – and it cannot, by any efforts of ours, however good or however successful, be rendered visible, tangible, or intelligible. Death, you see, is absolutely all of the resurrection we can now know. The rest is faith.

I can comment on Capon's confusing sayings about the Father and Holy Spirit in his explanation. It is simply an expression of his quirky British humor. From his other writings, he clearly believes Jesus came to reveal the Father, as well as Jesus' earthly ministry being performed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, his comments about the Father and Holy Spirit are tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken seriously; but rather with a wink and a nudge of laughter at those who have the foolish idea that Jesus is doing something of which the Father is unaware.