Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate a chair. You heard that right. It is the chair of authority that is also the Chair of service. They go together — authority and service. We may also know it as Servant Leadership.
Let’s begin with the authority aspect of the chair. Jesus Himself said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). We also see an example of keys being given to the steward by the king in the prophet Isaiah: “…he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house (Is 22:21b-23).
He will become a throne of honor! It is through this imagery in Isaiah that we can see how the authority Jesus is giving Peter in the Gospel is related to a chair. The meaning is security. One can sit and be safe. This is the place from which eternal Truth, the truth relating to God (and therefore that which truly matters), comes. It is solid. It is binding. This authority has also come with a promise: evil shall not ever overcome it.
Even more important than authority is the service aspect of the Chair. St. Peter tells us in his epistle that he is a presbyter among presbyters. He is a servant of the servants of God. Jesus gave another command to His apostles in the Gospel of Matthew: “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and that they exercise great authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Mt 20:25-27). Peter echoes the command of Jesus, saying, “Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3).
This applies to anyone in leadership, whether a churchman, a political representative, a parent, a teacher. Something to remember for all leaders: You lead for the sake of those underneath you, not for your sake; you lead for their good, not yours.
This is why we celebrate the Chair of Peter. It is to remind us that everything we have comes from the King, the ultimate Servant, who died for us that we might live. The authority of this chair unites us in Him.