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Both Sides Now

“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’” (Matthew 13:31-32, NRSVue)

Whenever we think of Jesus talking about a mustard seed, we think of the following passage:

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’” (Matthew 17:20, NRSVue)

The theme of this latter passage influences how we interpret the scripture I’m addressing this week. We automatically think that even a little faith as small as a mustard seed is sufficient to move mountains. We superimpose Matthew 17 over Matthew 13. When we look at Matthew 13 in its context, where Jesus tells other parables about how the Kingdom of God is hidden from view, we realize the seed’s smallness represents how the Kingdom of God remains hidden until it suddenly emerges, taking us by surprise. This parable is not about faith but the elusiveness of the Kingdom of God!

The tiny mustard seed can get overlooked in a farmer’s sowing bag, so they fill the seemingly empty bag with different seeds. When they broadcast the intended seeds, the mustard seed gets sown and surprises the farmer when it grows and stands tall above the crop. Jesus’ point is that the Kingdom of God produces surprises.

In Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides Now,” released in 1967, she speaks to the growth of one’s understanding over time and the ability to see the world from different perspectives as we gain more experience. Indeed, we are often surprised by the twists and turns of our lives with a combination of unexpected outcomes of both good and bad. Jesus’ point is that even when bad things happen, with the proper perspective, we can see God at work amid life’s highs and lows. When we think we’ve got everything all figured out, somehow, we find ourselves in a surprising situation and perplexed by our circumstances.

When I think of “Both Sides Now,” it makes me think of how limited we are in perspective. We expect the only way God can bless us is by making life easy for us, and when we face difficulty, we’re quick to question if God has abandoned us. We see things one way. In the Kingdom of God, we begin by trusting in the goodness of God so that no matter what happens, we can have confidence that we will be okay because our loving God is on our side. That means we can live with unanswered questions and paradoxes—even when we “really don’t know clouds, life, and love at all.”

This week concludes our Summer Playlist, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have enjoyed preparing this series. We have a surprise next week that I’ll share more about; however, be sure to invite your friends so that they can enjoy learning from the Bible and popular culture. See you Sunday!

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