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Mark 14:4

ESV There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?
NIV Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, 'Why this waste of perfume?
NASB But there were some indignantly remarking to one another, 'Why has this perfume been wasted?
CSB But some were expressing indignation to one another: "Why has this perfume been wasted?
NLT Some of those at the table were indignant. 'Why waste such expensive perfume?' they asked.
KJV And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?

What does Mark 14:4 mean?

This is the second time in a week that a woman has anointed Jesus with extremely valuable ointment, and the second time the disciples have grumbled about the waste (John 12:1–8). It's also the second time Jesus has reprimanded them for criticizing a woman who uses her resources to worship Him (Mark 14:6–9). While many scholars believe the two accounts are the same event, the disciples have more than proved their ability to miss Jesus' teaching and make the same mistake twice in a week.

In the earlier event, Judas is particularly loud in grumbling about the waste; now other disciples have joined in (Matthew 26:8). John reveals that while Judas claims to be concerned about the poor, he's more concerned about pocketing the money, himself (John 12:4–6).

The disciples consider the use of an expensive luxury item bad stewardship. We sometimes face the same issue. We can't physically give something to Jesus, but many people have given lavish gifts to churches and ministries. Should offerings and donations be restricted to helping the poor and directly meeting ministry needs? Is there a difference between a ministry accepting a mansion to house their offices versus a pastor using church offering money to buy a private plane?

To a large extent, it depends on how the gift is treated. God laid out extravagant plans for first the tabernacle (Exodus 26) and then the temple (1 Kings 6; 7:13–51). He provided materials for the tabernacle from the Israelites' Egyptian neighbors (Exodus 11:2; 35:22) and much, but not all, of the materials for the temple were provided by foreigners (1 Kings 5:1–12). Those are parallel to being given some lavish gift, not part of the "regular" offerings. By the time of Jesus, however, the temple has become an idol. Instead of representing the dwelling place of God, it represents the Jewish people.

It isn't wealth that God despises, it's idolatry. Money was the rich young ruler's barrier to following Jesus (Mark 10:17–31), but with her wealth, Lydia served the church (Acts 16:13–15). Christ-followers should feel free to give to churches and ministries as God leads them. Churches and ministries should be grateful for the gifts, and use them wisely in the freedom of Christ.
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