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9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

The connection of this parable shows its meaning. The parable itself seems to carry its interpretation on its face. Some of the crowd attending Jesus on a certain occasion reported to him some recent occurrences of a tragical character -- the slaughtering of some Galileans to be offered with their own sacrifices: the crushing of some 18 people to death by the falling of a tower. Their report was apparently made in a tone that suggested the opinion that the said persons must have been more wicked than ordinary mortals for such things to happen to them. Jesus at once offered a comment unfavourable to this view, and made one of those man-lowering remarks that distinguished him from all human teachers:

"Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

Then he adds the parable which likens them all to barren fig trees spared at the request of a patient gardener, in the hope that a little further treatment may induce fecundity, but on the distinct understanding that a further failure is to be decisive as to their removal as useless pieces of herbage. The parable was, doubtless, uttered and recorded for general use afterwards. It invites men to regard the continuance of their privileges as a mark of divine patience, and not as an indication of their own merit.

How naturally most men reason otherwise. When prosperity lasts, they complacently take it as a matter to which they are entitled. When adversity comes, they ask, "What have I done?" If they would realise that human life is altogether a matter of divine toleration, because of God's own purpose, and not because of human desert, they would most easily enter into this parable, and take the truly modest and perfectly reasonable attitude apostolically enjoined when we are commanded to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling," and to "pass the time of our sojourning here in fear."

There was, of course, a special applicability in the parable to the generation contemporary with Jesus. The divine displeasure had been gathering over the land of Israel for generations. The iniquity of the people was coming to a head, and the long gathering storm was about to burst, which would sweep Israel from their place among the nations, if reformation did not avert it. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," had special point as addressed to those who were to be engulphed in the flood of destruction that came with the overflowing of Roman victory 40 years later.

We of the nineteenth century stand related to a similar situation. A dispensation is culminating, and judgment impends that will sweep away vast multitudes for the same reason -- divine patience long misunderstood and abused. God is gracious and long-suffering. The parable illustrates this, and though the fact will remain absolutely without influence as regards the population at large, it is a source of comfort and encouragement in personal cases where there is a disposition to turn from evil.

Nazareth Revisited Ch 30.