Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16 There was once a man in the Land of Uz... Renowned twentieth-century American psychiatrist, Harry Stack Sullivan, was apparently the first person or academic to ever use the now somewhat hackneyed expression, significant other. He coined the term in 1940 in a lengthy academic article outlining his view that the origins of many if not most psychiatric problems could be found, not in dreams or sexual instincts as had been thought, but in peoples’ childhood relationships with the others around them; with their significant others, in other words, such as parents, siblings, and other close members of family. The term has since of course been narrowed to mean, almost exclusively, the most important person in one’s adult life: a spouse or lifelong partner of some sort. And this is the way the expression is usually used today. Some scholars speculate that Sullivan was in turn influenced in his understanding of the importance of significant others to human happiness and social adjustment by his Austrian-Jewish contemporary, philosopher Martin Buber, whose 1920s masterwork I and Thou postulated that our relationships with others are what give our lives meaning and that all such relationships find their ultimate purpose or fulfillment in that most enduring of all relationships, our relationship with God. One would almost be tempted to call God the definitive significant other, although I suspect both Sullivan and Buber would likely have frowned upon such an idea. Not to mention God as well... There was once a man in the Land of Uz... So begins the ancient Book of Job from which our first Reading this morning is taken, a folktale written some four hundred years before Christ, well before Buber and Sullivan, needless to say. Job is well-off as the story begins; “blameless and upright,” Scripture tells us, “one who feared God and turned away from evil.” But in short order, Job’s life is turned upside-down. Our telescoped version from the Lectionary this morning leaves out perhaps the worst of it. All his livestock and servants are killed off, and his sons and daughters die as well. He has lost virtually everything. Interestingly his wife, his significant other, is spared him; only to taunt him later for, of all things, his faithfulness. To add insult to injury, Job is afflicted with sores “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” All in all, more tragedy than most people endure in a lifetime.
The Book is, in my opinion, one of the most profound of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is usually -- and correctly -- understood as its author’s attempt to come to terms with the problem of evil in the world; what theologians call the problem of theodicy. How is it possible, in other words, that tragic, evil things should happen in our world -- happen to us -- if God is all-good and all-powerful and all-loving? The question is of course one with which theologians and sages of all spiritual persuasions continue to grapple into our own day. But it occurs to me that the story of Job is equally about relationship, love, and faithfulness; all values cherished by the likes of Sullivan, Buber, and thousands of other thinkers and saints over the centuries; cherished by all of us. I sometimes joke with parishioners that the entire Old Testament can be summed up in four words: God, good; people, bad. But Job is surely the exception. He understands the significance of the Other, with a capital O, even if his no doubt exasperated wife does not. He accepts the good with the bad. He remains faithful to God, and presumably to his wife as well, as foolish as he finds her to be in this instance at least. In her words, he indeed persists in his integrity. Job endures. Job loves. In this, I suppose, he is the kind of significant other any of us would wish to be; any of us would wish to have. One is tempted to ask: Would Job have been so accepting and stoical if he had known, as the author of the Book of Job allows us to know, that God in a sense is the one who has set him up, who has contrived his misery in collusion with Satan, no less...? This must surely be one of very few instances in all of Scripture in which God is not faithful. Would that have mattered to Job, as it likely would to us...? Would that knowledge have been too much for him and led him away from the Lord in disgust...? Good questions. We will never know of course, but I for one would like to believe Job’s faithfulness to God, the ultimate Other, was also ultimate and unconditional. Jesus, in our Gospel account, is also confronted with issues of faithfulness to the other, as the Pharisees come to him with what was apparently the hot topic of the day: divorce and remarriage. The issue is in a sense still a hot topic. I just read an article a couple days ago, for instance, by a conservative Hungarian Christian living in England bemoaning the fact that the Church of England allows for divorce and remarriage. In any case, for our Lord divorce is more than a mere legal formality, more than simply writing a “certificate of dismissal,” as the Pharisees seem to suggest it is; maybe hope it is. For Jesus, the question goes to the heart of what it means to be in relationship with another and with God. “What God has joined together,” says Jesus, “let no one separate." According to many scholars, by the way, Jesus in this passage is exaggerating the point in order to make the point – as he does for instance in demanding that we lop off our hand or pluck out our sinful eye – neither of which command was meant to be taken literally. Whether he would have demanded that an abused wife remain In the marriage is doubtful. Still, as was the case for Job, God is the Other inevitably reflected in the significant other. If marriages fail, and they do; if family disappoints; and if even long-time friends ghost us and suddenly disappear; it does not in any sense diminish the sacredness of human belonging. Jesus sees mirrored in human relationship and marriage one significant other relating to and loving another significant other. He sees our very relationship with the God of love. With the God who is love. As Job knew intuitively, the bond or covenant of love between God and humankind, as fragile as it sometimes seems, is ultimately unbreakable and enduring. Every human
interaction, from the simplest exchange at a shop-counter to the revelations and profound trust found in friendship and marriage, is also a communication with God; also a reflection of God in our midst. Our human failures, if anything, only serve to highlight this ultimate reality. Who we love and how we love, suggests Harry Stack Sullivan, defines who we are and who we shall become. And that after all is, I suppose, the ultimate significance of the significant other, the ultimate significance of the God of love. Just ask Job. Or better yet, his wife... Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs