The themes in scripture that are woven into its tapestry from Genesis to Revelation, are, in part, what give the Bible both its authority and beauty. Years ago I read a work by the late J. Sidlow Baxter called The Master Theme of the Bible in which he traced the theme of the Lamb of God throughout the scripture. I remember being both deeply encouraged and filled with wonder at this singular thread that stretched the breadth of God’s Word. I had that same experience reading Jesus the Bridegroom by Brant Pitre as he explores the theme of the God who wants to marry His people. Dr. Pitre is Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, in New Orleans, Louisiana. With a Ph.D. in New Testament and ancient Judaism, Pirte’s passion is to help people “see” the message of scripture through the lens of ancient Jewish eyes. He makes use of a wide range of extrabiblical Jewish writings (which he is careful to insist are not “inspired”) and quotes heavily from these Rabbinic sources to add color and insight to the New Testament.
This world is the betrothal… the wedding will be in the days of the Messiah. – Exodus Rabbah 15:31
Pitre endeavors to present Yahweh not only as the creator but as the One who desires to be “united to His creatures in an everlasting relationship that is so intimate, so permanent, so sacrificial, and so life-giving that it can only be described as a marriage between Creator and creatures, between God and human beings, between YHWH and Israel.” Pitre traces this idea beginning with the “divine wedding” covenant at Mount Sinai, through the spiritual adulteries of Israel and into the moment when John the Baptist describes himself as the “friend of the Bridegroom.” (Jn. 3:29) The Bridegroom is Jesus, the Incarnate One, who has come to win the redemption of His bride. Pitre works through the accounts of the wedding at Cana, the woman at the well, the last supper and the passion of Christ, showing the remarkable connections between them, the prophets and the Jewish traditions. (The observations on the wedding at Cana and the Samaritan woman are more than worth the price of the book.) The story finds its culmination in the marriage supper of the Lamb and a vision of the glorious bride of Christ.
For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5
Pitre’s Roman Catholicism is quite evident in some of his application but there is a wealth of insight here that any Protestant would be rewarded by and I found a great deal of the language not often used in Protestant literature to be refreshing. Roman Catholic thought is most evident in the chapter called “The Bridal Mysteries” in which the subjects of baptism, Eucharist, marriage and virginity are discussed. Even though there is much that I would disagree with Pitre on, I found an enhancement of my own views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper while the material on marriage and virginity were outstanding. Pitre’s illumination of marriage from Paul’s letters and the Jewish sources is very instructive and interprets the union in a remarkable way. As we face the current onslaught of support for gay marriage, there is much here that explains why that aberration is the complete antithesis of God’s design for marriage. Pitre doesn’t mention gay marriage but he so elevates the mystery of marriage (Eph. 5:32) that it insists only on the union of man and woman. Furthermore, and I say this with compassion and understanding the sacrifice involved, the section on virginity or “consecrated celibacy” is a positive and holy direction for those Christians who struggle with same sex attraction.
Pitre concludes the book with a meditation on the Samaritan women. He highlights Jesus, the bridegroom, waiting for this woman to ask her for a drink. Jesus “thirst” was a prelude to the moment in which he would offer her the gift of living water. This quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is, frankly, one of the most lovely things I have ever read:
“‘If you knew the gift of God!’ The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.”
I know some of my more reformed friends will not be able to crawl out of their anti-catholic shells far enough to appreciate this but that would be their loss. The notion of prayer as an encounter between God’s thirst and ours? That is priceless.Jesus is ever at the well, wooing his bride and inviting us to partake of the living water he alone can offer.