The story commences with a lawyer – one obsessed with the minutiae of the legal boundaries of society – seeking Jesus to explain what a person needed to do to “inherit eternal life”. Out-lawyering the lawyer, Jesus does not answer the question, but asks the enquirer one of his own, ‘What do you think the scriptures say about this?’. To which the learned man comes back with the pat answer of the ‘Shema’. Thus, the lawyer has indicated that by observing the requirements as stated in the ‘Shema’, he could earn the right to have ‘eternal’ life. Jesus says he has answered well, and should do as stated so that he would live. Note that Jesus did not say that the lawyer’s faithful observance would earn him ‘eternal’ life, but that he would live, as in live life well now. Jesus did not answer the lawyer’s initial question for it is not possible to ‘earn’ eternal life, for we already possess it! It is well for our existing life to act accordingly.
Not yet satisfied, the lawyer still feels the need to earn brownie points towards his own righteousness, and asks the question, “who is my neighbour?”. Jesus deftly answers that it is not only those that fall within the restrictive limitations of our laws, but to all those who are in need. This will not earn you ‘eternal life’ but will enrich not only those to whom you show mercy, but yourself too now. For God is Love (1 John 4:8) and His Mercy endures forever, and as the redeemed members of His body – part of His Oneness if you will – then it is right that we too show mercy without cessation as a demonstration of His Love in us. “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).