Today at Mass (Mt 20: 17-28) we hear about one of my favorite supporting characters in the gospels, the unnamed mother of the sons of Zebedee. I appreciate her anonymity, because she is a character one meets over and over in the ministry. Even my favorite Wikipedia article of all time--"List of names for the Biblical Nameless" doesn't provide a name for her. I suppose that down through the ages parents have been calling up schools and churches to push for the advancement of the children. Their kid is the smartest, so she needs to be in the highest academic bracket. Their kid is the best singer or the best looking, so he needs to be given the lead in the play. I'm sure anyone who is reading this has an example. Since it often works, who can blame them for the bad taste of their intrigue? After all, people who become teachers and clergy are helpers at heart and want to be nice to everyone, and they often give in. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as is said. Everybody hates whining, but we don't hate it enough to not want to get rid of it the easy way and give in.
I love how Jesus turns it around, and uses this very human moment to show how everything is different in the Kingdom of God. For His Kingdom is ruled from the throne of the Cross, and to be ambitious within it is to want to place oneself below others as their servant and slave. This is why the Cross is the salvation of the world; It undermines and subverts all of the quiet and respectable violences by which we try to 'get ahead' of each other in the selfish mess of our lives. The Cross is the escape from the cycles of violence by which we build fleeting securities and comforts for ourselves at the expense of the flourishing of others. This goes for the smallest malicious gossip all the way up to the wars and genocides of profane history.
On the Cross, Jesus gives us an example but also blazes a trail. It is a path out of the futility of violence and abuse of power. All sin is an abuse of power, after all, a misuse and deordination of what we as creatures could be for each other. When we apply the Cross to ourselves as our relationships, we learn the salvation of forgetting about getting ahead of others, and seek to put ourselves below them. This is the salvation Jesus holds out to a tired world.