What Might Jesus Say about Columbus Day?

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Year after year I notice more vocal opposition to Columbus Day.  So what are we “celebrating,” if I understand celebrating to mean I’m off from work, children are out of school, and the retail business sector has massive sales?  I don’t think we’re celebrating that Christopher Columbus was a saint, or some super human hero.  He was neither of those things.  He was a visionary who decided that he would find another way to reach Asia than the dangerous route around the horn of Africa.  His bold and crazy for the time idea was to sail west.  That’s right, west across the Atlantic Ocean with unknown consequences.  The idea that people still considered the Earth to be flat at this time in history is erroneous.  Pythagoras had that debunked by sixth century BC, but I digress.

So way back in 1492, Christopher Columbus gets his investment money from the Spanish monarchy and heads west for India.  Instead, he “discovers” America.  As many will point out this day, he didn’t discover anything that the native populations of indigenous peoples had not already known.  Nor was he the first European to set foot on the American continents.  Leif Ericson beat him to that.  Columbus came with several things, generously provided by Ferdinand and Isabella, that Ericson did not: armed guards to subdue the locals, Catholicism, and the desire to colonize.


(Image courtesy of amcatholic.wordpress.com)

I am not happy about the events that will follow which involve the enslavement and genocide of the native peoples.  I don’t think I will encourage my son to develop any hero worship of Columbus, but my ancestors might not have made it to the “New World” and I might never have been here, if Columbus had not come either.  Despite all its missteps and flat out divergences from what is right, the United States is a good country which I love.  It would not be here without the events that occurred driven by the hand and will of Christopher Columbus.  So what might Jesus say about Columbus Day?  I think that Jesus would think about what he does best: redemption.  Is Columbus a good man?  Maybe not.  Yet there are plenty of bad people whose actions get redeemed.  The clearest example for me is Judas Iscariot.  Was Judas a good man?  Probably not.  He betrayed Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah for thirty pieces of silver.  His action is terrible and he initiates a horrible end for Jesus, but from his betrayal comes the opportunity for God’s redemption of all humankind.

As Christians, we should try to understand where good and evil come into play in the events that shape our lives, but we also are called to see how God is at work to make good emerge from evil.  There are plenty of people who would sell their loyalty to their friend for the right price, more than we’d like to think, I’m afraid to say.  So God took that evil inclination of human beings to care more for material treasure than the treasure of heaven, and redeemed it by allowing it to be the catalyst for the sacrificial death of Christ.  I can see where Christianity has had its own role to play in the decimation and betrayal of the native peoples Columbus “discovered.”  There has also been a world of good that has come along with the bad.  From the colonization of the Americas by the Europeans came the foundation for the United States.  From the birth of this new nation came the existence of a multitude of new denominations of Christianity, including my beloved Methodism.  Others include the Southern Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church, and other forms of Protestantism that were born of ideas in Europe and only then able to emerge in the landscape of religious freedom peculiar to the United States. 

Without that fateful day in 1492 I would not be who I am today, and neither would millions of other Americans; millions of other Christians for that matter.  Maybe a better way to celebrate Columbus Day is to consider how one seemingly small event can change the world forever.  That is something Jesus knows all about.

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