Back when I was a young boy,
there was a TV show I couldn’t wait to watch every week.
Come Tuesday nights, I made sure I had my homework finished,
the stables bedded, the hogs slopped and the calves fed.
I made sure I got to the house to watch “Branded.”
For those too young to remember,
let me tell you what you missed.
“Branded” was a story about US Cavalry Captain Jason McCord,
the only survivor of a massacre by the Apache.
He was dishonorably discharged
for abandoning his unit in the time of battle.
Before being discharged, he was whipped.
And he bore the scars of those lashes on his back.
He spends the rest of his life
trying to prove he isn't a coward like everyone believes.
It’s a great plot for a TV show,
but a lousy story when it comes to real life.
Unfortunately, it happens a lot.
Getting “branded” happens all the time.
Not with lashes of a whip,
but by lashes of the tongue.
Somehow, somewhere along the way,
you get a reputation
you pick up name
and, suddenly, you’re branded.
Sometimes, for the rest of your life.
The terrible thing about branding
is that highlights one particular incident
to the exclusion of all others.
Consider Thomas, the apostle.
If I were to ask any of you
what word comes to mind to describe the apostle, Thomas,
that word would be “doubter.”
That’s how we know him.
the apostle who doubted the Resurrection of Christ.
It doesn’t matter that other disciples
It doesn’t matter that they, too,
refused to believe the women
stating that Jesus had risen from the tomb.
It doesn’t matter that they, themselves, denied Christ,
ducked for cover
and ran like scared rabbits.
It’s not fair.
But Thomas’ entire life was forever shadowed
by one incident of doubt.
Gives proof to the old saying that
it takes twenty years to build a reputation
but only two minutes to destroy it.
Ask Thomas, he’ll tell you what it feels like.
He’ll tell you that it doesn’t matter how many times
he walked beside Jesus,
and hung on every word of the Master.
It doesn’t matter that it was him, Thomas,
who, when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem,
roused the others and said, “Let us go and die with him!”
He’s not remembered for those courageous words.
We don’t call him “Courageous Thomas.”
We called him “Doubting Thomas”;
the disciple who found it difficult to believe.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand;
unless I put my hand into his side,
I will not believe.”
His legacy fixed for all time
by that one single moment.
But. let’s go back to that old TV show for just a minute.
Because Captain Jason was branded a coward,
he spent the rest of his life proving he was anything but a coward.
Apparently, so did St. Thomas.
According to tradition,
Thomas went further than any other disciple
in spreading the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
Peter carried the faith to Rome,
Paul carried it to Athens,
Mark carried it to Egypt
and John carried it to Turkey.
But Thomas, it is said, preached the faith as far away as India.
Maybe his being branded “a doubter”
compelled him to “go the extra mile,”
what do you think?
The extra mile to prove, not how much he doubted
but how deeply he believed and continued to believe?
And, with the help of God, so can we.
When depression becomes your constant companion,
when worry keeps you awake at night,
when there are test results waiting at the doctor’s office,
when your teenager has missed curfew and her cell phone is turned off.
How do you respond?
Can you push through the doubt as did Thomas?
Someone once said that the strongest faith
is forged in the workshop of doubt.
Today’s gospel illustrates the reliability of that statement:
“Unless…unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand;
unless I put my hand into his side…then and only then…”
What happened next?
What happened Thomas when mustered the strength
to touch the scars?
What did he discover about the hand he touched?
Clearly, it was not the soft hand of the wise teacher
with answers to every question.
It was not the steady hand of a miracle worker
who made harsh realities go away.
Rather, it was a hand branded with the mark the nail.
Thank you, Thomas.
Thank you for straining to reach the scars
of the One who was branded for our sins.
Thank you for showing us the truth
that the hand that delivers believers
from the darkness of doubt
is the hand that’s been pierced by the nail.