Recently, my pastor spoke about the parable of the Good Samaritan.  As with other messages on this parable, the crux of the issue came down to the identification of the "neighbor" in the story.  As was concluded in the message, it was the Samaritan man–not the religious elites–who was a true neighbors to the bloodied, violated man, for he alone showed care.

As I was reflecting upon this story, I was struck particularly by the identities of the characters in this parable–the three Jewish men, and the Samaritan.  Most of the messages on this parable that I have heard conclude that the point of the story is that the definition of "neighbor" must be expanded beyond one's friends, family and acquaintences, and must more inclusively be defined by all humanity.  While I believe this is certainly a part of the import of the story, I think a much more poignant point is being made by Jesus, the point that one's neighbor not only includes "everyone" generally, but one's enemies, specifically.

I think it is no accident that the protagonist of the story is a Samaritan.  Hated by the Jews and despised for their mongrolized religious belief and praxis, the Samaritans were a particularly notorious enemy of the Jews.  Yet it is this enemy in which Jesus posits true love for God and humanity in his rebuttal of his Jewish interlocuter.  But what is most poignant, I think, is that it is not a Samaritan who is cast as the victim, nor a Jewish man who assumes the identity of the archetype of heroic, selfless rescue.  Quite to the contrary, it is the hated one–the bitter enemy–who is shown to embody and image the true love of God.

This certainly must have been scandalous to Jesus' Jewish interrogator.  After all, it would be possible and perhaps even honorable that one speak of Jewish beneavolence toward an oppressed and hated enemy.  But to suggest that those who are untouchable could possibly be revelatory of the love of God manifested in the community of humanity?  Surely not.  

Yet Jesus' words strike through the comfortable assumptions of his interlocutor, challenging his comfortable, self-justified assumptions about the exclusivity of his belief and the cultus of worship in which he participates and on the basis of which he believes himself to be justified.  To his surely great shock, Jesus argues that the fulness of the imaging of God is realized not simply in love and care for one's friends and acquaintences, nor even to the inclusion of the "acceptable" stranger.  Rather, the true embodiment of the love of God is actualized only when this love embraces even the ones who one hates and despises, and the one that hates and despises in return.  

Such a perspective of the inclusive power of God's love revealed within the human community is ultimately the great equalizer of all, for in such a paradigm there remains no room for the classic structures of over-power and domination which are used to perpetuate the violent structuralization of human relationships.  As love must extend not only to include, but more specifically to embrace one's enemy, all the rationalized forms of violence and exclusion are left without foundation and justification.  No longer can estrangement and broken relationship be considered "necessity", for when the face of Christ is found, surely with great scandal, in the very face of one's enemy, the imaging of God's love instantiates the counter-necessity of forgiveness, reconciliation and embrace.  

In reality, the parable of the Good Samartian is merely a type for the salvific drama of the Incarnation of Christ.  Though considered and treated as an enemy, God is Christ has come with benevolence and infinite mercy to a humanity that has been torn apart and destroyed by its own violence and hatred.  Rather than finding within the face of those who hated him a justification for neglect, oppression or violence, Christ recognized within their shared humanity the very face of divinity, the imaging of the love of the Father.  In this supreme act of embracing the enemy, Christ disarmed the cycles of violence, rendering their power and virulence entirely without effect.  It is he, as the prophets foretold, who has bound up and cleansed our wounds, changing us from the bloody rags of sinfulness and violence to the brightness of resurrection, recreating within us the very newness of life granted unto him by the Father.  

Therefore, as followers of Christ, our only response can be to embrace those who hate and revile us, even as Christ embraced a world who violently despised him.  Yet in the example of Christ, we further find hope that this inclusive love is not merely a martyr's task, doomed to end only in our demise at the hands of those we are called to love.  Rather, as Christ–by embracing the enemy–has shown the recreating power of the love in the kingdom of God which has been inagurated through his Incarnation, so too do we have hope that the same transformative power is present when we too embrace the image of Christ that is revealed even the faces of our enemies.