Sir, leave the tree alone this year, I adjure,
Til I dig around it and heap on manure.
And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”Luke 13:6-9
According to St. Augustine, the fig tree planted by the Lord, symbolizing the whole human race, remained barren until the coming of Christ. The Son of God, our merciful gardener, pleads with the Father to grant the tree another year to flourish.
This tree is the human race. The Lord visited this tree in the time of the patriarchs, as if for the first year. He visited it in the time of the law and the prophets, as if for the second year. Here we are now; with the gospel the third year has dawned. Now it is as though it should have been cut down, but the merciful one intercedes with the merciful one. He wanted to show how merciful he was, and so he stood up to himself with a plea for mercy. “Let us leave it,” he says, “this year too. Let us dig a ditch around it.” Manure is a sign of humility. “Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.”St. Augustine, Sermon 254.3