They’re listening, watching, learning

Published 2:36 pm Thursday, May 11, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By R.A. Tea Mathews

Extraordinary. I am certain of that much—she was an extraordinary woman. A one-of-a-kind mother. The stuff of legends; famous and memorable among the first-century Christians of Rome.

We learn about her from Paul, who said in one tender verse, “(She) has been a mother to me…” 

Email newsletter signup

Who was that?

  1. The mother of Jesus
  2. The woman at the well
  3. The mother of Rufus
  4. Peter’s mother-in-law

Here’s the passage. We find it in Paul’s writings as the apostle closes his letter to the faithful in Rome.

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.” (Romans 16:13)

The correct answer is No. 3, “The mother of Rufus.”

What was her name?

  1. Mary
  2. Priscilla
  3. Salome
  4. None of the above 

Scripture tells us nothing more, not even her name, a woman who had such a profound effect on the Apostle Paul that he said, “(She) has been a mother to me…”

The correct answer is No. 4, “None of the above.”

You can’t help but wonder about Rufus’ mother. How she lived her life. If you think about those who successfully mother their offspring, they are loving and giving. They are women who listen, know when to speak, know what to say. 

Some argue that Paul was estranged from his own family—a Pharisee who became a Christian. But, listen. When Paul began to preach in Jerusalem, the brethren feared for his life and sent him to his hometown. So Tarsus would have been a safe, welcoming place for the apostle. (Acts 9:26-30)

Paul’s writings tend to focus on his ministry, avoiding personal information. That’s why the mother of Rufus must have been extraordinary. And I wonder whether she knew her influence, her power. 

Do you? Are you aware of the impact you have on other people’s children—perhaps those in the church, kids you encounter at work, your neighbors’ offspring? 

As my friends get older, so do their children, becoming teens and young adults. A week ago, on a sunny afternoon, the daughter of a friend said, “I heard you.”

“About what?” I asked.

“When you talked to me about my drinking.”

That conversation had occurred one evening as I watched her going from a lot of beer to a lot of liquor. 

“It’ll help me sleep,” she had said. 

“Is that a good reason?” I asked.

“Okay, it helps me escape my problems.”

As I kept talking to her, I thought back to when my friends and I reached the legal drinking age and started ordering sweet, mixed drinks at dances and champagne at celebrations. 

Soon after, on a family vacation, I ordered a cocktail. My mother responded immediately. 

“No. Absolutely not!” 

She was adamant. It didn’t matter what point I made, my mom was not having it. 

“You are not going to drink!” she said. 

It was so important to her that I gave in. No explanation needed.

But I didn’t have to look far to find a reason. No one drank in my home, but my extended family suffered greatly with more than one alcoholic wrecking more than one life. 

I heard my mother’s voice as I talked that night with my friend’s daughter. And I added what my mom had left out.

“No one plans on becoming a drunk,” I said. 

But it seemed like those words went in one ear and out the other. Then, one sunny afternoon last week, she said, “I heard you.”

I give the credit to my mother. I am so grateful to her for shaping my life: Stressing the importance of God and holiness; focusing on music and education; advocating for the less fortunate; teaching me by example to be strong-willed and to share.

Yet I don’t think she realized the extent of her power.

Perhaps you don’t know yours either, the leverage you have over your children and grandchildren. Maybe the mother of Rufus also didn’t know her influence, extraordinary as she was.

Don’t be afraid to stand alone for God, to speak out for Him, to live a holy life, to share your convictions. Be aware of your speech, the things you read and watch, what you bring into your home, the events you attend, the friends you encourage.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. Remember that your children, no matter how old, are listening, watching, learning. So, too, are the offspring of others.

You never know the power of a mother. It’s a big responsibility. It’s an honor.

Happy Mother’s Day! 

The Rev. Mathews, BA, MDiv, JD, is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at to join her 1-Minute Bible Study.

Copyright © 2023 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.