Women Paul wrote to in Rome

Rufus’ mother (Romans 16:13)

Just one line about this woman in Paul’s life, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.” But, to understand the depth of meaning in how Paul felt about the love Rufus’ mother poured into him, we need to know something of Paul’s life as a boy.

Paul began life as ‘Saul,’ born into a wealthy and influential family, one of the few Jewish families to have Tarsian citizenship and one of the few Tarsus families to have Roman citizenship, which Paul inherited by birth.

He grew up in Tarsus, a university town that surpassed Athens and Alexandria for the quality of the education offered. Tarsus was also a center of political power favored by Rome, so much so, that some citizens were given the unusual privilege of being granted Roman citizenship. Ideally located for trade and commerce, a bustling harbor and trade routes. Especially known for its production of cilicium, a trademark water-resistant cloth woven from locally grown black goat hair. It is thought that Paul’s family grew wealthy from the manufacture of cilicium tents which were a favorite of caravans, nomads and armies all over Asia Minor and Syria.

Paul’s family was of the tribe of Benjamin, and were known as Hebrew Jews, meaning they kept to the Old Testament ways, spoke Hebrew and worshiped in a Hebrew speaking synagogue. They resisted  the taking on of Greek customs and language, that many other Jewish families not living in Judea were adopting. To protect their precocious young son from the materialistic and godless influences in Tarsus, they sent him at a young age – probably between ten and twelve, to Gamaliel’s school of religion in Jerusalem, where Paul finished his upbringing, always ahead of his class and younger than his peers.

He was an unusually intelligent boy, what we would call today, “gifted and talented.” That’s helpful to know, because such children share an array of similar traits, among which are:

  • Deep, intense feelings and reactions
  • Highly sensitive
  • Idealism and sense of justice at early age

Imagine such a boy, a preteen, being sent away from his own family—his mother—to a boarding school of other, older, boys and a famous tutor. I think of intensely lonely and sad, feeling like he didn’t fit in or belong, maybe he felt like he had to “toughen up,” as we so often tell tender sensitive people to do. As a very young man, he led the brutal crackdown on Christians, with  basically carte blanche permission and an open checkbook from the Sanhedrin. Imagine the cascade of intense emotions and broken heart when the Lord stopped him short on that road to Damascus.

We’re all pretty familiar with Paul’s relentless energy and drive being applied to his missionary journeys. He exhausted himself, utterly spent himself, in the Lord’s employ on a nonstop basis. He said himself how he owed the Lord this lifelong commitment, because the Lord loved him so much He saved Paul, called him to belong to God, and consecrated him to service—Paul! The chief of sinners for his brutality against the Lord’s own.

What would it have meant for him, therefore, when a believer, and also a mother, would take him in, feed him, give him a place to rest, to bathe and refresh himself, and to shower on him all the tender affection and care any mother would give her son. Think of how that must of healed Paul’s old, deep wound in the loss of his own mother at such a young and vulnerable age, and the fresher wound of seeing to the imprisonment and murder of other believing women, other mothers and their sons.

It’s possible Rufus became a believer on that first day of Pentecost, when Peter preached his famous sermon and three thousand Jews, from all over the known world, heard the gospel in their own language, and were cut to the quick of their hearts in conviction.

About a month and a half earlier (fifty days, to be exact), Rufus had been in Jerusalem with his brother Alexander, and their father Simon, to celebrate Passover. They were Jews from the Diaspora, displaced by exile. Their clan had ended up in Cyrene, a large Greek settlement in North Africa (Libya, today).

As they were going about their business, there was a great stir, as Roman soldiers approached with yet another victim for the cross. They usually would take the longest route possible to the crucifixion site, parading all the condemned along the busiest streets. The idea was for the maximum amount of people to get a grim reminder of the penalty for crossing the Romans. For the same reason, crucifixions were typically positioned on main highways, where it would be most visible.

As they walked, four soldiers surrounded each prisoner, who had to carry the crossbeam of his own cross. A board stating his crimes would be hung around his neck, then nailed over his head on the cross. Jesus, exhausted by lack of sleep, lack of food, loss of blood with terrible injuries, staggered under His cross, physically unable to carry it anymore. Casting about for a solution, one of the soldiers spotted Simon and conscripted him to shoulder Jesus’ cross the rest of the way.

An innocent bystander, Simon was forced into the humiliating position of carrying a cross, and becoming unclean because of all the blood, which meant he might possibly miss being able to go to the temple services, the very thing he had gone to such great expense to do. Not only that, his sons would have to walk with him.

But that event was no accident, in the sovereignty of God. By the time Paul wrote his letter, it seems the whole family had been baptized into faith, and were active in the spreading of the Gospel.

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.