And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 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. — Matthew 16: 17-19
I love award shows. The Emmys tomorrow night. The Academy Awards. The Country Music Awards. I love it when they broadcast who is in attendance down in the front rows. Usually it’s the big stars, the people we know. And sometimes the host even goes down to talk to the folks, just jumps right in there, like when Ellen took that ‘selfie’ at the Oscars last year.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I noticed something.
Every one of those front seats are always filled, even when the presenters are on stage. And seeing as most of the presenters are coming from that front section, and you can’t be two places at once, it got me thinking. How do they do that? There should always be at least a few empty seats, right?
Well, long ago in Hollywood, the producers figured out a solution They are called “seat-fillers.” There is a web site for this. Here’s how it works. When a celebrity guest gets out of their seat for whatever reason, these people quickly fill the seat until that person returns. Then, they wait for the next important person to get up, and so on. Sort of like a game of celebrity musical chairs. I’m not sure what the pay is, but I know you have to be young and beautiful to be considered for the job.
In Chapter 22 of the Book of Isaiah, Eliakim has been chosen to be a seat-filler. Isaiah tells Shebna, who is currently on the throne, that he’s all done. It’s time for Eliakim. He will be the father of Jerusalem, and the Lord will place ‘the key to the House of David on his shoulder’. And he’ll be another in a long line of kings to hold the throne, as all Old Testament leaders do, until the Messiah comes.
Abraham. Moses. David. All great prophets proclaiming the glory of the Messiah yet to come. All filling the seat, so to speak, until the Christ returns.
In Matthew 16, Peter becomes the seat-filler. Peter is going to be the rock until Jesus returns. In the meantime, he is given the keys to the Kingdom. “Whatever is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever is forgiven on earth shall be forgiven in heaven.”
There’s always been a lot of talk for centuries about the hierarchy of the Church. Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests. What is their role, exactly? Some people still have a difficult time accepting the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, and that’s understandable to a certain extent in the United States.
But if you look at the structure of our Church in light of these two readings, your perspective might change. The Church was established to honor Jesus in His absence. Anyone who follows in a position of authority is a seat-filler. It’s not their permanent place. When you think about it, none of us have a permanent place here. Pope Francis knows that. It’s not about him. It is about representing Jesus until He returns.
Once, an American tourist visited a well-regarded Jewish rabbi in Europe. When he arrived, he was shocked to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room. A small table, a bench, and a few books. The tourist asked “Rabbi, where is your furniture?”
“I’ll answer you,” the rabbi replied, “but first you have to tell me where is your furniture?”
“Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “Oh, I’m just a visitor here. I’m only passing through.”
The rabbi paused, and then said with a smile. “Well, so am I.”
Imagine the difference in our lives if we were all able to say, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. I’m just a seat-filler.”
We will all leave our homes, our families, one day. Nothing is permanent. But, that also includes our pain and sorrow. We can all take consolation in that. In the meantime, we are all seat-fillers, acting as the hands and feet of Christ until His return.
So, the next time you take a seat at the doctor’s office, on the bus, in a classroom, or at the movies, remember you are not meant to sit there for a long time. You are holding it for the next person.
Just like the rest of us. Waiting for the Second Coming. Waiting to see, once again, the glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ.