Gordon Green, M.Div. M.A.
On October 12th, we will celebrate Columbus Day in recognition of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas on that same date in 1492. As with Labor Day, Columbus Day is not widely observed by the US workforce other than for special retail promotions. However, in Argentina, it is called “The Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity,” and in Italy (the birthplace and nationality of Christopher Columbus) it is celebrated as The National Festival of Christopher Columbus. In a couple of Latin American countries and in Spain, October 12th is a sacred holiday loosely tied to Christopher Columbus thanks to a Spanish Empire edict dating back to 1730 which declares it a Feast Day in remembrance of Our Lady of the Pillar (Virgin Mary).
While the holiday has evolved into a variety of expressions of thanksgiving, the backstory of Columbus’ character and accomplishments brings cause for reflection of the good and the bad in all of us. Having completed four successful voyages to the Americas under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, many of the names Columbus gave to geographical landmarks of the New World—particularly the Caribbean Islands—are still in use, today. However, his legacy as a figurehead for the transition from the Old World to the New World Order has been marred by recent historical findings that indicate he promoted slavery and genocide in his conquests (Wikipedia). On the positive side, he persevered rejection, refusing to give up on his vision. After failing to gain the support of the Portuguese Monarch (having sought repeated audiences over a five-year period), he then persisted in petitioning the Spanish Queen (over an additional two-year span). Finally, he succeeded in persuading the Spanish Crown to provide the ships and funding he so desperately needed. On the negative side, Columbus was a selfish man and a womanizer who married a Portuguese heiress for his gain and later pursued a local mistress for his pleasure (having a child by both women). He was also a tyrannical leader who enslaved and/or killed natives as suited his purposes and tortured opposition as a warning to others (Wikipedia).
Similar to Columbus, our Bible tells of explorers who exhibited “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in their quest for a new land. En route to the Promise Land, motivated by jealousy, Jacob’s ten oldest sons plotted the murder of their younger brother, Joseph—only to sell him into slavery. Not long afterward, spurred by revenge, they deceived and slaughtered an entire tribe of foreigners after the tribal leader’s son defiled Jacob’s daughter—even though the offender offered restitution. Many years later when famine devastated the Middle East, these ten older brothers humbled by their circumstances demonstrated that their attitudes had changed and that they were more concerned about the wellbeing of other family members. When they discovered that Pharoah’s governor was their little brother, Joseph, they sought his forgiveness. Yet, even after Joseph extended the hand of reconciliation, they failed to grasp the extent of his forgiveness. When their father, Jacob, died they feared that Joseph would change his mind and seek revenge. Instead, Joseph assured his brothers that there would be no reprisal and stated a truth that holds fast today, that God redeems good from evil:
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”Genesis 50:19-21a
The ultimate act of redemption is, of course, the work of Christ on the Cross! By taking on the penalty of death for our sins, Jesus has brought us forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father. However, while sin and death no longer have dominion over us, the ill effects of evil will continue to oppress us until Jesus returns and banishes Satan from his new creation. Meanwhile, the battle between good and evil continues to mar our lives and our land. This is certainly evident when one considers our young nation’s track record. In many ways, our explorers and expansionists are no better than Columbus or the sons of Jacob. Whether pressing the boundaries of the Western frontier, or the cotton fields of the South, or the industrial revolution of the North, American leaders have exploited and abused Native Americans, African slaves, and immigrants. With this in mind, when we celebrate Columbus Day, let’s certainly give thanks to God for those who contributed to the founding of our nation and for his unmerited blessings that we have since enjoyed. But let those of us in privileged positions who have benefitted from the advances of our nation also seek forgiveness and reconciliation with those who continue to suffer the ill effects of the abuse inflicted on their ancestors. And let us give thanks to God who redeems good from evil. Amen!