Sunday’s Gospel Doctrine lesson was about the twelve falling asleep during the atonement. Our teacher asked why they couldn’t do something as simple as stay awake, especially since they were supposed to be the cream of the crop, Jesus’ chosen.

Matthew 26: 40:  “And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?”

The original twelve apostles are portrayed as very flawed humans throughout the New Testament. This provides a decided contrast to Jesus’ divinity.  The twelve fall asleep and miss the atonement, they bicker over who among them is the greatest, they deny Christ at the crucial moment, they consistently misunderstand Jesus’ teachings and parables and instead of asking him, even when he is right there, they reason among themselves, not wanting to show their ignorance.  They confuse the politics of their day with the gospel messages Christ is teaching.

Maybe that’s the point. They are supposed to be flawed and human to remind us not to rely on the arm of flesh but instead to turn to the source, the one who can save.  They are first and foremost disciples, just like every Christian since then, each working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, aware of something great beyond himself, but not fully comprehending the depth and complexity of the teachings nor the personal sacrifice required to apply them, settling for consensus and peer approval rather than real light and knowledge from the source of truth.

I’ve been semi-indifferently watching the mini-series A.D. which provides a glimpse into the original twelve and shows how they come together to create a church in the wake of Christ’s death.  Only after the crucifixion do they start to step up to the plate and become willing to die for the cause.  Only after much trial and error does anything resembling a church emerge.  It’s not a world class mini-series[1], and admittedly I am about six episodes behind, but it’s an interesting enactment of what is hiding in plain sight in the New Testament.  tl;dr, the original church didn’t emerge fully fledged out of the head of Zeus, clutching a copy of the CHI.

Maybe not much has changed in 2000 years. If we recognize modern-day apostles as fully human, working out their salvation with fear and trembling just as we must, perhaps we will have the patience Paul described so well.  I described the idea E. Oaks focused on in his address in Singapore, that the mantle is always bigger than the man.  Although E. Oaks has been criticized for statements that church leaders should not be criticized [2], this acknowledgement seems important to comprehending the role of the twelve.  They are made of clay like the rest of us.

Because we are human, we are participants in the stuff of life.  We get caught up in the every day matters of survival:  shelter, politics, food, parenting, approval-seeking, and other needs and responsibilities.  Just like the original twelve, we all fall short.  Our lives are full of seasons.  Our faith ebbs and flows.  Try as we might, we deny Christ some of the time.  We misunderstand gospel teachings.  We don’t grasp what is required of us.  We judge others.  We see the mote in our neighbor’s eye, but not the beam in our own.  We mistake the approval of peers for what’s right.  We ask people around us rather than seeking personal knowledge from the source of truth.  We confuse conventional wisdom and personal biases with timeless truth.  We conflate current political issues with the everlasting gospel.  We sleep through the atonement.

Perhaps not much has changed in 2000 years.

Matthew 26:45:  “Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”


[1] On the downside, some of the supernatural scenes are, as expected, cheesy as all get out.

[2] Is that ironic?