What does this parable mean?
Jesus says this following his discussion of the Galileans, wherein twice he repeated, "But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
As mentioned with this statement (see link), the word μετανοέω (metanoeō) translated to "repent" refers to having a change of heart, and the word ἀπόλλυμι (apollymi) refers to not only perishing - but becoming lost.
Thus we find that Jesus follows these statements with the above parable. Jesus is discussing our arrangement in the physical world and the loving relationship between God's representative - sent to bring us home - and the Supreme Being: With respect to those of us who are lost in the physical world after having rejected the Supreme Being. Let's break this down:
"A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard..."
The "man" symbolizes the Supreme Being. Note Jesus refers to "his vineyard." This relates to ownership. The Supreme Being is the owner and controller of everything, and "his vineyard" represents the physical world - in particular, the material world within the human form of life.
And the "fig tree" symbolizes each of us occupying a human form.
Consider the beauty of Jesus' symbolism here. A vineyard is a plot of land where the vineyard owner will have seeds or bare roots planted. These will grow into vines and trees that hopefully bear fruit.
Such a vineyard owner - a land owner - usually does not live in the vineyard. He might live in a house away from or next to the fields. But he won't be living inside the rows of grapes or trees.
Nor will he do all the work himself. The vineyard owner will have workers who do this. Yet he will design the vineyard and oversee its operations remotely, and will come and visit the vineyard frequently. He will intimately know how each of the plants are doing. And he wants all his trees and vines to succeed and bear fruit. But those that do not bear fruit will be removed from the vineyard.
This physical world - and in particular, the human form of life - is a lifetime of choice. It is a lifetime where one can decide whether or not we want to return to our relationship with the Supreme Being or simply continue to reject Him - remaining self-centered.
Thus this human form of life would adequately be compared to a vineyard where the vineyard owner wants us to bear fruit: By deciding to return to our innate relationship with God.
This is the purpose of the human form of life - and this distinguishes those of us temporarily occupying this physical body from the other species. These include animals, insects, plants, bacteria and so forth.
As discussed, scientifically here, the physical body of each of these species - as well as the human form - are temporary vehicles the spirit-person (an entity of the spiritual dimension) can occupy.
This might be compared to how a pilot might occupy and fly a small airplane. The pilot is not the airplane and cannot go up into the sky without an airplane. And the airplane cannot fly until the pilot gets in it and starts it up.
In the same way, the spirit-person is not of the physical realm, but we can access the physical world by occupying a physical body. We are thus given a physical body that reflects our consciousness - combined with our prior decisions and actions, and its consciousness.
Without the spirit-person within, the physical body is dead. But with a spirit-person within, the physical organism - whatever species it might be - is alive. And it is the consciousness of that spirit-person that drives the organism - just as the pilot steers the plane.
The human form, however, is a body of higher consciousness - one that allows a person to decide to return to our home and leave the physical world. Jesus is comparing this human form of life with the fig tree in the vineyard. And 'bearing fruit' represents making the decision to return home -giving ones heart to the Supreme Being.
"...and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any."
But should we not make this decision - and not 'bear fruit' - then at the end of this human lifetime we will be bound to take on a body within one of the ignorant species of life - animals, insects, plants, etc. These physical forms will house our spirit-selves just as the human form housed us. The only difference is that we will have lost the higher intellectual abilities of the human life - the ability to ascertain and pursue spiritual consciousness relating to the Supreme Being.
In these lower forms, the spirit-person is effectively "lost" or "perishes" -as Jesus stated in his prior statement - because such the person has become ignorant of the Supreme Being. This is what one might call spiritual death.
"So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard..."
This symbolizes God's representative, who comes to the physical world to bring those who want to return to Him back to the spiritual realm. Prior to being able to return, however, one's consciousness must become prepared to return.
Having rejected God and His world, we have become self-centered. We have forgotten how to really love. We erroneously consider love like a business: Where one must receive in order to give. This is not love.
Spiritual love is innate within us all, but that love - and our consciousness - must become purified. It might be compared to looking at a dusty mirror. In order to truly see the reflection in such a mirror we have to wipe off the dust. Our self-centered desires are like the dust.
So Jesus is comparing himself - as God's representative - to the vineyard manager. The vineyard manager's job is to nurture the plants. He gives them fertilizer and water in order to begin to bear fruit.
The 'fertilizer' and 'water' symbolize the practices relating to worshipping the Supreme Being. These include prayer, praising God's Holy Names, making offerings to God and the study of the Scriptures. These activities purify our consciousness. And they are guided by God's representative, just as a vineyard manager might nurture the vines and trees so they eventually bear fruit.
"'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'"
A stubborn spirit-person who is fortunate enough to occupy a human form but does not take advantage of that human form and decide to return to our innate relationship with God is wasting that human form. Should they ignore God's representative and his instructions, they will be wasting the human form of life just as the tree that does not bear fruit is wasting space in the vineyard where another tree could be planted.
We see this waste going on around us currently. We see much of human society living like animals while rejecting God's existence. A person whose focus in life is to merely eat, sleep, mate and defend is living no better than an animal.
The human form of life should be focused upon learning spiritual matters - namely our spiritual identity and relationship with the Supreme Being. One who is not thus focused is wasting their human of life, just as the tree is wasting the soil in the vineyard.
"'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it.'"
This symbolizes the loving and merciful relationship between the Supreme Being and His loving servant and representative. While God's designed system of consequences will toss a spirit-person out of the human form if that person is not utilizing the human form to redevelop his relationship with God, God's loving servant has mercy upon us, and pleads our case - to give us another chance.
This relates to whether a person - who has not redeveloped their relationship with God - will reclaim a human body after the death of this body or return to the ignorant forms of life among animals, insects, plants and so forth - also referred to as the lower regions of hell.
God's loving servant will plead the case of a fallen person - one who might have had some openness to his teachings and did not offend God's representative. They might be functionally wasting their human form of life thus far but the potential may exist that they might have a change of heart as a result of hearing the teachings from God's representative. This is compared symbolically by Jesus as the fig tree receiving the special care of the vineyard manager, who will try to rehabilitate the tree by giving fertilizer.
"'If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"
But should a person continue to ignore the teachings of God's representative - or even offend him directly - such a person will be given up on (at least for now). This is illustrated by the symbolism of the vineyard manager giving the tree one more year.
While we are each given ample opportunity to change - and even special attention - it is still our choice. Each of us has the freedom to choose whether we want to return to our relationship with God or continue to ignore Him.
Many debate the concept of free will. They might see that much of our existence is controlled, and we really have little control over the physical elements and what others do.
But we do have the ultimate free will to decide where we end up in the future. We decide which direction we will go. Will we return to the spiritual realm and resume our original relationship with God? Or will we continue to wallow within the ignorance of the physical world, traveling from body to body with a self-centered consciousness and continued emptiness.
Such suffering, however, is not really suffering if we are speaking of someone who wants to forget about God. A person who doesn't want to hear about God wants to be in such ignorant forms of life. We hear this all the time - when some say: "Wouldn't it be nice to have a life of a dog - so carefree." Such a person will relish reclaiming the ignorant consciousness found among the lower species of life.
That is our choice - because love requires that freedom of choice. The Supreme Being wants us to love Him again. But because real love requires the freedom not to love, and because God doesn't want slaves or robots - but loving playmates - He gives us each the free will to love Him or not.