The ‘mess of pottage’ motif is a commonly used theme in art and has been used very effectively in a number of classical literature works. It is employed to depict how something immediately attractive, but of little value, is accepted foolishly and carelessly, in exchange for somewhat more distant and perhaps less tangible, but immensely more valuable. Think about Esau’s sale of his birthright to Jacob for a mess of lentil stew (“pottage”). Indeed, the phrase ‘mess of pottage’ is often used to describe Esau’s bargain.
Recently, I read a poem, written by Myra Brooks Welch, a resident of La Verne, California, who lived in the period of 1878-1950. In 1921, she heard a speaker address a group of students. It motivated her to write a poem titled ‘the Touch of the Master’s Hand’. She said, she was so much inspired that “the poem wrote itself in 30 minutes!”
Later, she sent the poem to her church news bulletin without revealing her identity, for she believed it to be a gift from God, and would not like to take the credit for it. Needless to say, it became very popular and famous within a short span of time.
Finally, several years later, the poem was read at a religious international convention with the author’s name “unknown”, when a young man stood up and said, “I know the author, and it’s time the world did too. It was written by my mother, Myra Welch.” Thereafter, her name, as well as her other works of poetry became famous worldwide.
‘The Touch of the Master’s Hand’, also sometimes called ‘The Old Violin’ is an inspirational and captivating poem that speaks eloquently of the worth and potential of each and every individual. Here, Myra Brooks Welch tells the story of a battered and decrepit old violin that is about to be sold for a very cheap price at an auction; until a player steps out of the audience, picks it up and demonstrates how lovely it could sound by the touch of a skilled hand.
Whereupon, the previously unenlightened audience competes to acquire the violin for thousands of times the previous perceived value. The poem then draws the parallel to a wayward and dissolute individual who is losing his soul through his sinful and wicked life, until, at the last moment, “being saved”, by the touch of his Loving Creator, starts a whole new life. In this poem, the mess of pottage motif was used in a very beautiful and elegant way to demonstrate the importance of God’s presence in human lives.
The Touch of the Master’s Hand
‘Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,”
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as caroling angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its’ bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
“We just don’t understand.”
“What changed its’ worth?”
Swift came the reply.
“The Touch of the Masters Hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters’ Hand.”
~Myra Brooks Welch
Here is a short film adaptation of the poem:
“…… though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” – Isaiah 1:18