I just finished the fabulous book On the Road with the Archangel by Frederick Beuchner. It’s an artistic retelling of the apocryphal (at least if you’re Protestant) Book of Tobit. It follows almost exactly the story from the Apocrypha, but where the ancient tale paints the characters and situations in sort of a gunmetal grey hue, Buechner brings them to life with vibrant colors. While not deviating from the original except to name a few unamed characters, Buechner fills in the spaces of each person and situation with imagined personalities, internal conflicts, concerns, hopes, dreams, and quirks.The story begins with Tobit who was a righteous and devout family man. He often risks his well of himself and his family in service to others (and in hope of earning favor with the Holy One.) After falling asleep one night under the ivy in his courtyard, Tobit awakes to the birds cheerfully pooping in high eyes. This causes him to go blind and after years of shame, frustration, and embarrassment Tobit prays for God to end his life.
Hundreds of miles away, at the same moment, a young woman named Sarah offers up a similar prayer for death. Years ago she was betrothed to a man she didn’t love, and in hopes of avoiding the marriage she made a pact with the demon Asmodeus to help her escape. Unfortunately she neglected to be specific about the means of escape and on the night of her wedding Asmodeus shows up and kills her new husband. Over the course of six more attempted marriages Asmodeus appears on the wedding night and kills each new husband in turn. Feeling ashamed for her role in their deaths and stung by the accusing glances of the community who have assumed she is a black widow, Sarah contemplates suicide. Her concern for how a suicide would break her father’s heart and shame her family dissuades her however and instead prays instead that the God would take her life.
Up in the heavenly realms, the archangel Raphael diligently carries the prayers from earth to the throne of the Holy One. As God listens to the prayers of Tobit and Sarah His heart is filled with mercy and He sends Raphael himself down on a special assignment to make things right for Sarah and Tobit.
What happens over the course of the rest of the story is a fascinating and funny imagining of the hand of the Holy One at work weaving fishing gut, marriage, and too many fortuitous meetings into the restoration and blessing of Sarah, Tobit, and their respective families.
The difference between the original and this retelling was the difference between the sound of a single horn player and the roar of the imaginary symphony in Tobit’s mind. The characters and situations are all so relatable and funny that the reader can’t help but be drawn into the story.
The e-book version I read was only 115 pages and could easily be read in one long sitting or over a few days. It’s a fun, engaging, and lighthearted story that I highly recommend.