For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
This passage from 1st Corinthians is the key to the cross. It opens to an understanding of Jesus' mission and to ours.
Saint Paul addresses two different cultures: Jews and Greeks, the religious and the secular. Religious speak of signs and power. They are emotionally vulnerable and subject to the painful experiences of scandal. They despise sacrilege and weakness; and worship power.
The wise speak of knowledge and understanding; they disdain foolishness. They are persuaded by reasonable arguments that make sense.
Neither is particularly open to the unexpected. Religious have their formulas and rituals and are willing to welcome only that which flows within their traditional understanding.
The wise cannot accept prima facie something that fails to explain itself. They want to know where this is going and will walk away if they suspect it's going nowhere. You'll recall the Athenians who walked away from Saint Paul when he spoke of Jesus' resurrection. They had followed him up to a point. Remembering the martyrdom of Socrates, they might have been willing to accept Jesus' crucifixion. But Socrates was not raised up and they saw no possibility for Jesus' revival.
Even the fact that certain reputable people had seen the risen Lord did not sway them. As far as they were concerned, "Men don't rise from the dead and that's that!"
Jesus' cross, then, is a scandal to religious. We Catholics are used to seeing a naked man on a cross; it's there in every Catholic church. We have to be reminded of how grotesque it is, that the Son of the Most High God is described with that image. We are sensitive about the sacrilegious and yet fail to notice the sacrilege of that brutal murder. When we introduce the curious to our faith we will probably fail to prepare them for that horrible image.
We're equally nonplussed by those who doubt the resurrection. Christians accept the testimony of the eyewitnesses who saw him raised up. Without their testimony we have no faith. If "the wise" refuse to accept that testimony we might try to explain the resurrection. We'll remind them that larvae become butterflies and fetuses become babies. Such explanations might help but they won't persuade. Only grace can do that.
We find in the cross of Jesus, the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is beyond human comprehension and it reminds us continually that our comprehension is feeble. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him!
The mystery of the cross will always challenge our habitual ways of thinking. Every culture from the monastery to Wall Street will occasionally take issue with the cross and be confounded. (Hopefully, the monastery will be more open to the challenge but Wall Street needs it more.)
The cross teaches us to "be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth."