For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written [the reference is to Isaiah 29], "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart."
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. FOR THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD IS WISER THAN MEN, AND THE WEAKNESS OF GOD IS STRONGER THAN MEN.
People, then as now, are relatively prepared to accept savior figures promising redemption from the ills of human existence. It is the "cross" part of the message that constitutes the "stumbling block," the "folly." It is that crucial motif in Christianity that theologians have called kenosis, the humiliation of God:
The same God who has all power, who created this world and all possible worlds, has taken upon Himself the form and the fate of an ordinary man, and indeed a man who suffered the most agonizing afflictions of betrayal, torture, despair, and death.
Paul's scandalous proposition is that the weakness of God reveals His true power, including the power to triumph over sin and death.
Rather, I want to emphasize the alienness of the Christian message as a whole: this savior proclaimed in the Gospel is one who breaks into human reality like an intruder---unexpected, unrecognized, indeed unappealing. In this, the savior actually authenticates his divine provenance: The divine always manifests itself as that which is alien, not human, not part of ordinary reality.
If the church gives up this "folly," it gives up itself and its very reason for being. This is why the pursuit of the "wisdom of the world" is finally so pernicious. It is not just that it is more or less futile, for the sociological reasons I mentioned, or that it is philosophically dubious. More importantly, if the church (or, for that matter, individual Christians) give up the transcendent core of the tradition in order to placate the alleged spirit of the times what is given up is the most precious truth that has been entrusted to the church's care---the truth about the redemption of men through God's coming into the world in Christ.
If that were all there is to Christianity, it would be the most doleful religion, a truly masochistic and downright pathological belief. Of course, that is not the case at all.
Lent is the prelude, not the culmination. Lent leads up to Easter, the ultimate weakness of God to the blinding revelation of His omnipotence. The "word of the cross" culminates and finds its true meaning in the word of the resurrection---Christ's resurrection and our own.