When we left the synagogue, James, Jesus and I went to Peter’s house. Rufina, his wife, was preparing a good dish of lentils for us…
Peter: Come on in, fellows, and sit here in the shade. Food will be ready in a jiffy… and I swear everyone will have a good share…. Come, Jesus, let’s get some olives while Rufina’s tending the fire.
Simon Peter was a special type. Peter, the stone-thrower, as we all called him, had a curly beard and a nose as big as a tomato. He was the best rower on the lake and the noisiest, too. He had the stink of a fish, but was always in good humor. With four sons to feed, and a wife, he had to work himself to death. Peter loved Rufina, his wife, very much, in spite of their constant bickerings….
Peter: Hey, lady, when will those lentils be ready? These fellows are hungry!… For God’s sake, hurry up!
Rufina: What do you think I’m doing? You should have given me the money earlier, you tightwad!… These lentils don’t come from heaven. One has to pay for them, big nose!
Peter: And that witch of a vendor simply couldn’t trust you?
Rufina: That witch as you say she is, has been lending us food for three weeks already, and if you don’t pay her before Saturday, that’s the end of it!
Peter: And what did you tell her?
Rufina: That she was right.
Peter: Oh, really?
Rufina: Yeh, she’s right!
Peter: Hey, don’t raise your voice when you’re talking to me!
Rufina: And don’t you raise that voice of yours, either, scandalous man! Now I know why my mother is sick – because of your screamings!
Peter: Of course not! It’s your laziness that made her sick, because if she were here, she’d be tending the kitchen and the lentils would be ready!
Rufina: Oh, Peter… Peter….
Peter: Now, what is it?..
Rufina: Don’t accuse me of being lazy; it’s not true…
Peter: And don’t you call me tightwad, you know I hate it….
Rufina: Oh, Peter, what would I do without you?
Peter: Hmm… That’s for me to say… what would I do without you, Rufi?
Peter and Rufina had four sons: Little Simon was the first son. Then came Alexander, who was five years old; Reuben, three; Ephraim, two and…. well, another one was coming, whom we all hoped would be a girl…. Peter’s brother, Andrew, the skinny one, and still unmarried, lived with them, as well as their father, Jonas, a grumpy old man, and his mother-in-law, Rufa, who had been ill for two months….
James: Well, Peter, where are the lentils? Are they coming or not? Maybe a goat has eaten them before they could get to our table!
Peter: Don’t be impatient, my friends. The food will be ready soon. You see, my mother-in-law has been ill, and things have been difficult since…
Little Simon: Jesus, our grandmother is sick.
Jesus: Oh yes? Where is she, Little Simon?
Little Simon: Over there, in the corner.
Peter: Old Rufa is my mother-in-law. It’s really sad, you know; a case of a bad fever…. Say, why don’t you greet her and tell her one of your stories, while my wife is cooking up the lentils?… Come inside, Jesus, the old woman is there lying down…. Just don’t mind the mess around you. You know how it is to live in only one room, with so many people around….
Jesus: How are you, Gran’ma? How do you feel?
Rufa: I can’t sit. I’m dying.
Jesus: But how do you feel?
Peter: She’s a little hard of hearing, Jesus.
Rufa: Who are you?
Peter: He’s a friend from Nazareth, do you hear me? I said, from Nazareth. His name is Jesus and he’s going to spend a few days with us. He knows a lot of jokes. Ask him to tell you a funny story.
Rufa: Will that make me laugh? I’d rather cry!
Jesus: Come on, Gran’ma. Don’t be such a killjoy. What is ailing you? Tell me, please….
Rufa: Oh, my son, what do I know? …I’m not a doctor!
Peter: Okay, Jesus, I’ll leave the two of you. I’ll go ask Rufina to hurry up. I’ll let you know when food is ready….
Rufa: It’s somewhat strange, son. Look, I feel I have fever inside my body…. Do you hear?
Jesus: Yes, Gran’ma, I hear you very well.
Rufa: Outside, I feel terribly cold, even my skin cringes because of the cold.
Jesus: It is nothing serious, Gran’ma. It’s just a simple fever.
Rufa: But my son, how can the heat and cold go together, and then you say it’s nothing?
Jesus: There is nothing strange about it, Gran’ma. Even affection and hatred go together. Didn’t you hear the bickerings between your daughter and your son-in-law a while ago?
Rufa: I’m deaf, you know. I hear some noise but I know not where it comes from.
Jesus: Directly from the kitchen, where Peter and Rufina were quarreling.
Rufa: Ah, those two are like cats and dogs. I don’t understand the young people of today. They swear their love for each other, and yet, they never cease quarreling.
Jesus: Well, it’s like that. I guess, Gran’ma, have you had this experience yourself?
Rufa: That was long ago…. Now, my teeth are almost gone…. Look… Ahhhh…. I’m like an old fishing net that wears out easily. I’m not good for anything anymore.
Jesus: Don’t say that, grandmother. I’m pretty sure, if you just get up from there and fix yourself a little, and take a walk along the village, someone will certainly notice and give you a compliment.
Rufa: What did you say?
Jesus: Compliments, Gran’ma, words of admiration.
Rufa: Hi, hi, hi… Good heavens, my son. That might have been true before, when I had all my teeth, and my hair was smooth and…
Jesus: …and they were saying beautiful things as you walked through the streets of Capernaum, is that right, Gran’ma?
Rufa: The last compliment I received was when I was forty years old, can you imagine? I was still attractive then.
Jesus: Really? Tell me, Gran’ma, what did they tell you?
Rufa: Bah, I don’t remember. ‘Twas such a long time ago.
Jesus: Now I’m curious to know the secret of your charm, Gran’ma. Come on, tell me.
Rufa: Oh, one of those foolish things of men. Imagine, I was on my way to the market, with a rose in my hair…. Then I heard someone say: “Every time I see you, I tell my heart: what a beautiful sight that makes me stumble”. Hi, hi, hi,… ‘Twas a fruit vendor who told me that.
Jesus: Say, Gran’ma, you’ve got very pretty hair.
Rufa: And soon, it will be falling off too. Everything in us, old people, falls off, like dried fig leaves.
Jesus: Their leaves fall during winter, but they grow again in spring and begin to have flowers.
Rufa: There’s no more spring for old people like us. Now you see me here; when you come back tomorrow, perhaps, I’m no longer here.
Jesus: Our body wears out, Gran’ma, but not the heart. The spirit never grows old. What matters is to keep the spirit young. Look at our Lord…. oh, the years that He’s lived since the creation of the world! God is young, for He is young at heart, just like you, Gran’ma.
Rufa: God does not remember old people.
Jesus: Don’t say that, Gran’ma. God cares about all of us: the big and the small ones, the young and the old. God never abandons us.
Rufa: Well, sometimes I feel abandoned, my son, like those old dried logs floating in the water, with nowhere to go….
Jesus: No, Gran’ma. You’re still strong enough to go on. And when the Lord finally calls you, don’t be afraid, because we’re not to stay on this earth. We’re gonna join the Lord in His big house, where there is a place for each one of us.
Rufa: You speak very well, young man. God bless your tongue!
Jesus: And God bless those bones that you may become still stronger.
Rufa: Thank you, my child. But that’s no longer necessary. Nobody needs me in this world..
Jesus: How can you say that, Gran’ma? Your grandchildren need you. Your son-in-law would be more at ease right now, if you were to give your daughter a hand in the kitchen. She’s having a hell of a time cooking the lentils right now, which are taking forever.
Rufa: Ah, my son. No one will ever beat me in the kitchen. As you can see, until two weeks ago, I was kneading bread, gathering firewood and attending to the laundry. Sewing is not for me anymore; my eyes are tired. But the rest of the household chores I still carry out the way a newly-wed does.
Jesus: And you were saying that you are good for nothing anymore….
Rufa: Yes, but now I am down with this illness. I don’t even have the strength to sing a tune.
Jesus: You mean you can sing, too, Gran’ma?
Rufa: Why, yes, my son. I loved to… I was a happy person before.
Jesus: My grandfather, Joachim used to sing to us on the farm. His favorites were the songs of yesteryears, those of your time….
Rufa: Are you fond of old songs?
Jesus: Very much, grandmother…. Say, do you happen to know the song “The Lilies of King David”?
Rufa: Sure! A friend of mine taught it to me, during our trip to Jerusalem for the trade fair.
Jesus: Can you sing it, Gran’ma?
Rufa: I am sick, young man. How can I sing?
Jesus: Of course, you can, Gran’ma. C’mon, sing it, please… May be you will be more comfortable when seated… Come, give me your hand… cheer up..
Rufa: Just a minute, young man. I feel faint…
Jesus: You look good, Gran’ma… Now, try to stand…. yes… uupps!… that’s right… slowly now…
Rufa: Hold it, young man…. my bones are… oh….
Jesus: You see, you can do it!… Don’t you feel a little better now?
Little Simon: Gran’ma, are you well now?
Peter: Mother, why are you on your feet? Go back and lie down immediately!
Jesus: Leave her alone, Peter; she’ll sing “The Lilies of King David” for us, won’t you, Gran’ma?
Peter: The Lilies of…. Now, I don’t know which of the two of you is sick with fever. Or have the two of you gone crazy? You better see this for yourself… Rufina..!!
Rufa: Leave me in peace, Peter, will you? I feel a lot better now.
Children: Gran’ma is cured! Gran’ma is cured!!
Rufina: But, Mother, why are you up, now? Go back and lie down on the mat!
Rufa: Go, lie down yourself, if you want, and don’t pester me. I feel alright, and right now I’m going to the kitchen to give you a hand. Then they will see that the old Rufa can still be useful at something, my goodness!
Jesus gave old Rufa a strong desire to live. Peter’s mother-in-law got up that day and succeeding days. She helped in the kitchen, did the laundry and served at the table… while she sang the melodies of old, as taught to her by her grandparents, which she, in turn, taught to her grandchildren.
Peter had a mother-in-law, and therefore, was married. This is one detail of the gospel. The composition of the family (his wife, Rufina, and his four sons) is an elaboration of the episode. Jesus’ disciples were men of flesh and bones, engaged in their own occupation, with family, a house, and with a psychological make-up different from each other. The gospel gives us more data about Simon, nicknamed Peter (also called “stone-thrower” in the account) that will help us reconstruct his way of being. A protagonist in several episodes in Jesus’ life, Peter appears as a vigorous man, impulsive, affectionate, very generous and close to Jesus on account of their profound friendship. Peter’s house, where Jesus meets the old Rufa, is one of the historically authentic places among the more tangible remembrances of the life of Jesus. Of Peter’s house are preserved its foundations and threshold at the entrance, through which Jesus certainly passed a hundred times. The foundations reflect the extremely small space where Peter and his family lived in poverty.
In Jesus’ time, there were less old people than today. Human span of life was shorter due to a dearth of medical knowledge. Most men and women died young according to present-day perception. Old folks were very much loved and their presence inspired respect in the family. They were likewise responsible for transmitting family history, cultural traditions, etc. Jesus does everything for everyone. He approaches grandmother Rufa in a manner we should treat our old folks: by making them feel their worth, giving them the strength to confront their afflictions with hope and preparing them for the hour of death with serenity and trust in the Lord. This “miracle” of Jesus is a sign of God’s love for the old, who, at times, are rejected and deemed useless by the society of today.
(Mt 8:14-15; Mk 1:29-31; Lk 4:38-39)