This parable is closely connected with the preceding verses because of the theme of repentance. In this particular vineyard there is a fig tree planted and its owner has come seeking fruit from it. However, for the third straight year, it has not produced any fruit!
Instructions are given to the vineyard keeper to cut this tree down since it is not being productive and is essentially wasting the ground space. The keeper requests that it be spared for now and be treated in such a way as to induce fruitfulness (i.e., digging around it and fertilizing it). If the tree still doesn't bear fruit after this additional effort and time are invested in it, then the keeper agrees that the tree should be cut down.
What is the spiritual message of this parable? Jesus is comparing His listeners to a fig tree planted in a choice place--a vineyard. The number "three" (cf. 13:7) should not be interpreted as a literal number of years since the additional year in the following verse is certainly not literal. Rather, the numbers merely imply that there is a limit to God's patience. If a person is given plenty of opportunities to be productive (i.e., bear fruit) for the Lord but continues to fail in so doing, he is worthy of being cut down and will eventually be destroyed. He is wasting precious resources that could be given to another to use. He is not fulfilling the fundamental purpose of his existence (cf. Eccl. 12:13,14). Those to whom Jesus spoke had been called to repentance by John the baptizer and Jesus, and they had ample time and opportunity to bring forth the fruits of repentance. Since they had failed to do such, they deserved to be destroyed. The Jewish nation was destroyed in AD 70 for their lack of repentance and rejection of the Christ. They were not bearing the fruits of righteousness as God expected of them (cf. Matt. 3:10). It is true that God does not want any individual or nation to perish (cf. II Pet. 3:9). However, there is a limit to His patience and tolerance for lack of production.