This is one of the most practical Bible lessons.
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? This is a basic, universal question that is asked by almost all human beings, even today. In Mark and Matthew, the question is more of a Jewish question. That is, “What is the greatest/first commandment of the law?” Mark and Matthew were asking a fundamental Jewish question; Luke was asking a fundamental universal question.
Luke was written to a larger world which he knew as a follower of Paul. This was the first time the idea of Dt 6:5 (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”) being combined with Leviticus 19:18 (“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”)
Jesus is challenged by a lawyer. The lawyer’s presence and public questioning of Jesus shows the degree of importance his detractors are placing on finding a flaw they can use. The lawyer is trying to see if there was a distinction between friends and enemies. Luke in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”) had eliminated the distinction and the lawyer was trying to introduce it again. As Jesus’ influence with the crowds continues to grow, the alarm of the religious establishment grows as well.
His first question is “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus answers, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer follows up with a second question, also a very good one. If doing this, i.e., loving God and loving neighbor as oneself, is a matter of eternal life, then defining “neighbor” is important in this context. The lawyer, however, in reality, is self-centered, concerned only for himself.
Jesus shifts the question from the one the lawyer asks — who is my neighbor?–to ask what a righteous neighbor does. The neighbor is the one we least expect to be a neighbor. The neighbor is the “other,” the one most despised or feared or not like us. It is much broader than the person who lives next to you. A first century audience, Jesus’ or Luke’s, would have known the Samaritan represented a despised “other.”