Dr. Brant Pitre’s new book, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told tackles something that I find confusing when I stop to think about it.

Jesus, a bridegroom. OK, yeah, but isn’t that a metaphor?

Turns out, not so much.

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According to the the blurbage, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, the book

taps into the wells of Jewish Scripture and tradition, and unlocks the secrets of what is arguably the most well-known symbol of the Christian faith: the cross of Christ. In this thrilling exploration, Pitre shows how the suffering and death of Jesus was far more than a tragic Roman execution. Instead, the Passion of Christ was the fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecies of a wedding, when the God of the universe would wed himself to humankind in an everlasting nuptial covenant.

If Pitre’s name sounds familiar, it might be because of his other book, the really popular one: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (2011, Image Books).

Pitre’s a Louisiana resident with a wife, five kids, and probably a house full of cool parade gear junk, if I have my geography correct. (The parade season in New Orleans has inspired me, what can I say?)

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You’ll find him teaching scripture at the seminary by day and lecturing packed auditoriums by night. I suspect he keeps a cape in his briefcase and has superpowers such as not needing as much sleep as the rest of us and remembering everything he’s ever read.

He was kind enough to answer not one, but two sets of questions from me (my next interview of him will be posting at Integrated Catholic Life on Monday, March 17), and Image Books sent me an excerpt to use.

Q: Brant, I’m assuming that since you’re a professor and a writer, you probably do a lot of reading. Tell us the best couple of books you’ve read lately.

Wow! You go straight for the hard questions. Right now, I’m reading Ralph Martin’s The Fulfillment of All Desire. It’s a fantastic introduction to spiritual theology; every serious Catholic should read it.

I’m also working through a new book on the apostle Paul by the Anglican scholar N. T. Wright, entitled Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It’s an amazing study; but it’s also 1700 pages, so I’m not quite done yet!

Finally, I recently finished Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel, which is virtually a book. It’s the first time a papal document has ever moved me to tears.

Q: As a professor, you have exposure to young people in a way many people don’t. How will your new book reach this audience? How will they respond to the themes you set forth in Jesus the Bridegroom?

One of the great things about writing Jesus the Bridegroom was that I had the opportunity to try out the ideas with students in an entire course I taught on the topic. If my experience there was any indicator, the students really responded most deeply to the idea that all of human history is a divine love story, and that at the center of this story is the Crucifixion of Jesus.  The classes where we explored the Passion of Christ through the lens of an ancient Jewish wedding were electric. At certain points, you could hear a pin drop. I’ll never forget the experience of teaching about this topic for the first time.

The students also seemed to enjoy using the Old Testament to unlock the hidden meaning of otherwise familiar passages from the Bible, such as the Song of Songs, the Wedding at Cana, the Woman at the Well, the Last Supper, and the Book of Revelation. Since the Old Testament’s often unfamiliar ground to many Christians, it can be exhilarating to read the New in light of the Old, and the Old in light of the New, which is what I do in this book.

Finally, serious young Catholics these days are also very focused on discerning their own personal vocation. Jesus the Bridegroom speaks directly to that issue, by focusing on the nature of the personal, spousal relationship between Christ and the Church. It pushes you to ask the question: How do I see Jesus? What kind of relationship do I have with him, as a member of his Bride, the Church?

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Q: What’s the greatest reward from all of the writing and speaking you do?

Just knowing I played some small role in helping people get to know Jesus better. My hope is that the reader will come away realizing he was more than just a great Teacher, or Miracle Worker, or even the Messiah. He was (and is) the Bridegroom God come in the flesh. That means he mission wasn’t just to save humanity from sin and death. He came and died on the cross in order to unite us to himself forever in a personal relationship of love.

So many people today think of salvation simply as ‘not going to hell’. But if Jesus is the Bridegroom Messiah, then salvation is not just about deliverance from sin; it’s about union with God. And the way he achieves this union is precisely through the Wedding Banquet of the Last Supper and the Wedding Day of his Passion.

Q: Who do you find most moved by this book? Does that surprise you? Was that your intent?

Interesting question. As I’ve spoken about the topic around the country, I’ve been struck by the way it hits everyone, no matter what their particular state in life.

I knew from the start that nuns would love it—and they do! (They’re married to Christ, after all! What do you expect?) I also figured that Christian women would be open to and interested in the idea of Jesus as Bridegroom. I didn’t anticipate how consoling it would be for women who came up to me after a lecture to tell me that, after having abandoned by their husbands, it gave them joy to realize that Jesus is the true Bridegroom of the Church, that the Eucharist is his wedding banquet, and that he would never forsake them.

As a husband myself, I knew that it would challenge Christian men to be more like Christ the Bridegroom in their relationships with their wives and families. (The section on Ephesians 5 might be challenging for both husbands and wives!). What I didn’t realize how is much it impact it would have on men discerning the priesthood, in their desire to act in the person of Christ the Bridegroom in ministering to the Church.

In short, there’s something for everyone in this book, because the mystery of Christ’s love is universal.

Q: What’s your favorite part of Jesus the Bridegroom? Why?

My favorite part of the book is the chapter on “The Woman at the Well” and the last chapter, called “Beside the Well with Jesus.” These are about the famous story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. I love these chapters because the Samaritan woman is not just a bridal figure (you’ll have to read the book to find out how!); she’s every one of us. She’s every sinner. She’s every broken person in this world who’s ever made a mess of their lives. And none of this stops Jesus the Bridegroom from pursuing her.

Despite her many sins, it is Jesus who first seeks her and asks her for a drink. In other words: God thirsts that we might thirst for him. That realization has changed the way I see God, the way I live, the way I pray. I hope it can do the same for others.

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Here is an excerpt of the book, courtesy of Image Books.

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Excerpted from Jesus the Bridegroom by Brant Pitre Copyright © 2014 by Brant Pitre. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What do you see when you look at a crucifix? Different people see different things. Do you see the brutal execution of an ancient Jewish man at the hands of the Roman authorities? Or the unjust punishment of a great teacher, who was tragically misunderstood by the leaders of his day? Do you see the martyrdom of the Jewish Messiah, who was killed for claiming to be “the king of the Jews”? Or the sacrifice of the divine Son of God, who willingly took upon himself the sins of the world? In the first century A.D., the apostle Paul — a former disciple of the Jewish rabbi Gamaliel — saw all of these things. But he also saw something more in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul saw the love of a bridegroom for his bride. In one of the most famous (and controversial) passages he ever penned, the apostle describes the passion and death of Jesus in terms of the love of a husband for his wife. Speaking to husbands and wives in the church at Ephesus, Paul writes these words:   Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so let wives also submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without  spot or wrinkle  or any such thing, that she might be holy and without  blemish. . . . “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:21–27, 32)   Now, I realize that many readers may be thinking: “Wives do what?!” Why does Paul tell wives to “submit” to their husbands? And why do husbands apparently get off so easy, with the simple command to “love” their wives? Is Paul some kind of apostolic chauvinist? What in the world does he mean when he says such things?   I promise to get to that later on in the book. Before we can, however, we first need to focus our attention on what lies be- hind these controversial words: Paul’s description of Christ as a bridegroom, the Church as his bride, and the crucifixion of Jesus as the kind of ancient Jewish wedding day on which he “loved” her and “gave himself ” for her. Indeed, as we will see later on, when Paul refers to the Church being “washed” and “presented” to Christ, he is describing the ancient Jewish bridal bath and wedding ceremony. From Paul’s point of view, the torture and crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary was nothing less than an expression of spousal love.   What are we to make of this mysterious analogy? To be sure, most Christians are familiar with the idea that Christ is “the Bridegroom” and the Church is “the Bride.” But what does this really mean? And what would ever possess Paul to think of such a comparison? If you had been there at the foot of the bloody cross, with Jesus hanging there dying, is that how you would have described what was happening? How could a first- century Jew like Paul, who knew how horribly brutal Roman crucifixions were, have ever compared the execution of Jesus to the marriage between a bridegroom and his bride? Is this just an elegant metaphor? If so, why then does Paul refer to it as a “great mystery” (Greek mysterion mega) (Ephesians 5:32)?   As I hope to show in this book, it is precisely because Paul was Jewish that he saw the passion of Christ in this way. It is precisely because Paul knew Jewish Scripture and tradition that he was able to see the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as more than just a Roman execution, an unjust martyrdom, or even the sacrifice of the Son of God. Because of his Jewish background, Paul saw the passion and death of Christ as the fulfillment of the God of Israel’s eternal plan to wed himself to humankind in an everlasting marital covenant. As we will see in this book, from an ancient Jewish perspective, in its deepest mystery, all of salvation history is in fact a divine love story between Creator and creature, between God and Israel, a story that comes to its climax on the bloody wood of a Roman cross. In order for us to see all of this, however, we will have to go “back in time” to the first century A.D. and take off our modern “eyeglasses” and try to see both the love of God and the passion of Jesus the way the apostle Paul and other ancient Christians saw them — through ancient Jewish eyes. In other words, we will have to go back and reread the accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in light of ancient Jewish Scripture and tradition. When we do this, we will discover that Paul is not the only person who talked this way. In the early stages of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist — another first-century Jew — refers to Jesus as “the Bridegroom” (John 3:29), even though Jesus has no wife. Later on, in one of his most mysterious parables, Jesus refers to himself as “the bridegroom,” and calls his disciples “the sons of the bridechamber” (Mark 2:18–19). Moreover, the very first miracle Jesus  performs takes place at a Jewish  wedding, when he acts like a bridegroom by miraculously providing wine for the wedding party (John 2:1–11). Most striking of all, the last days of Jesus’ life — the Last Supper, the passion, and his crucifixion and death — when examined through the lens of ancient Jewish Scripture and tradition, look mysteriously  similar to certain aspects of an ancient Jewish wedding. According to the book of Revelation (written by yet another Jewish Christian), the world itself ends with a wedding: the eternal “marriage supper of the Lamb” and the unveiling of the new Jerusalem as the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19, 21). In other words, when seen through ancient Jewish eyes, Jesus of Nazareth was more than just a teacher, or a prophet, or even the Messiah; he was the bridegroom God of Israel come in the flesh. As the Bridegroom Messiah, his mission was not just to teach the truth, or proclaim the kingdom, but to forgive the sinful bride of God and unite himself to her in an everlasting covenant of love. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:  The Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him. . . . The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. (CCC 1612, 1617)   So, if you’ve ever found yourself puzzled by the words of the apostle Paul, or if you’ve ever wondered exactly what it means to say that Christ is “the Bridegroom” and the Church is his “bride,” or if you’ve just wanted to understand better who Jesus was and why he was crucified, then I invite you to come along on this journey of discovery. As we will see, by looking at the love of God and the passion of Christ through the lens of the Bridegroom Messiah, we can transform not only the way we see Jesus and his death, but also how we understand baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, virginity, and even the end of the world. While many a man through- out history has jokingly described his wedding day as his funeral, Jesus of Nazareth is the only man who ever solemnly described his funeral as his wedding day. This book explains why, and what it means for who he was, why he lived, and why he died on the cross. Before we can begin to see Jesus differently, however, we first have to go back to the beginning of the love story, and try to see God differently, through ancient Jewish eyes.

Excerpted from Jesus the Bridegroom by Brant Pitre Copyright © 2014 by Brant Pitre. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.