25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
Is Jesus thereby saying that salvation can be earned? Indeed, anyone who can meet such a standard does not need grace. But the standard is to love God unfailingly with all one's heart, mind, soul, and strength, and consistently love the neighbor as much as the self. As Paul enunciates, the problem is not the law, the problem is that we cannot keep it (Rom 7:13-20). Here the standard set by Jesus eludes our finest efforts. To put it another way, the lawyer asks, "What must I do in order to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replies, "You must jump over this ten foot fence!" The lawyer should be able to see that he cannot jump that high and that he has thereby asked the wrong question. But he fails this expectation.
Instead, he repeats his question in a different form. He apparently says to himself, "So, I must love God and my neighbor to earn my salvation. Fine, what I need now is a few definitions. To love God is to keep the law. I already know that. What I need is some clarification of exactly who is and who is not my neighbor. Once I have clarification on this point I can proceed.
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
The lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?" is the wrong query. He is challenged to ask, "To whom must I become a neighbor?" The parable replies, "Your neighbor is anyone in need, regardless of language, religion or ethnicity." Here compassion for the outsider has its finest expression in all Scripture. The ethical demands of this vision are limitless.
quotes from pgs. 287,288 & 297 of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey