Both are allegorical in that they both point to something and teach a lesson. “That’s like a fable! You might say.” Though both parables and fables teach lessons, the former uses people, whereas the latter uses animals. Both teach morals, both are a form of guidance.
However, a parable generally refers to spiritual lessons and in this way is not unlike many dreams that help one to develop a connection with their spirit. Over the centuries many people have claimed to have received messages from God through the medium of the dream. Throughout the history of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) dreams were said to have been sent from God to certain individuals that were supposed to be used for the good of all people, or to advance the understanding of one so that they may do more good for others. Parables were for all of these religions a means for communicating religious and spiritual concepts.
Why do parables, fables and dreams exist? The answer may be because that they are easier to remember than a direct example. “Dreams, easier to remember?” You say incredulously.
We don’t remember many dreams these days because it is not encouraged by the culture, but once a dream comes through, it’s hard to forget, especially if you’ve figured out what it means. But just because we don’t use them much, dreams haven’t gone the way of the appendix. Ever notice how much you dream after you start reading about dreams?
Mysteries bewilder us and tend to make us pay attention and to focus. Few of us would want to leave a mystery unsolved. Bewilderment makes us strive to know why, or what, or how–it is the carrot at the end of the stick. Dream symbols also beg that we interpret them just as we tend to add meaning to every event and person in our waking life (though this is most often an unexamined ego-supporting process where we project ourselves onto everything and then label it as reality).
Unlocking the meaning of a dream is not unlike discovering the meaning of a parable in that the process starts with asking the right questions and noting that these questions are affected by our beliefs regarding the symbols. Certain questions will often determine the answers, or at least bias them. So before you ask the questions, take a look at the foundation that they sit on. If you already have an answer, that will drive the question and bend it toward your answer. You see this phenomenon frequently with regard to news articles. This is just another form of, “We see what we want to see.”
What did this parable really mean? If the word “shepherd” were a metaphor for soul, your soul (your guide), what would the parable mean?
Is it possible to read this parable in yet another way, other than the traditional shepherd/flock metaphor? Might Jesus be telling us of our own divinity, our own spiritual nature and its connection with God? Might he be showing us how we can be following the wrong shepherd (the ego-self)? Might the guide that is within us all and that can come to us through a dream be the unconscious self?
Parables and dreams encourage us to dig deeper into their meaning and then apply the lessons to our everyday lives. Neither have to be an accurate depiction of actual events– they only need to point to the idea being conveyed in order to be instructive.
*Photo by-The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.