Lech Walesa’s path to becoming the president of Poland reached its pivotal moment on August 14, 1980 when he jumped a fence to get into the sufferings of workers in the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. He had previously been fired from his job there as an electrician for his role in protesting against Poland’s communist government in 1976. But Walesa jumped into the fray once more and was elected head of the shipyard’s strike committee. The workers’ demands were met, but workers in other Gdansk enterprises asked Walesa to continue striking in solidarity with their struggles. He agreed and quickly emerged as the national leader of the Solidarity Movement for political reform.
Solidarity was recognized by the Polish communist party, but pressure from the Soviet Union quickly led to a government crackdown. Walesa was arrested but returned to leading the movement underground upon his release. Eventually Solidarity succeeded in lifting martial law, forcing a contested parliamentary election, establishing a non-communist government, and breaking Soviet control over Poland. Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1983 and became the first democratically elected president of Poland after the fall of communism.
The Catholic Church supported the Solidarity movement and may have headed off further repression party when Pope John Paul II invited Walesa to a high-profile visit to the Vatican in 1981. Walesa credited his faith with the inspiration and strength needed to lead the movement. "No one throughout the world gave us the least of a chance to break Communism down," he said. "It happened quite simply. We knelt down and prayed.”
Priests in ancient Israel not only offered sacrifices for the people, but they also offered prayers of intercession. Thus Jesus prays for us before the throne of God (Heb. 7:25). “[Jesus] is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). “He entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb. 9:24). We need Jesus to be “always” interceding in the presence of God on our behalf because we continue to sin, fall short, and stray away. Our actions speak ill of us before God, but Jesus’ words about us are words of love before the throne of God.
To put it in workplace terms, imagine the fear a young engineer might feel when he is called to meet the chief of the state highway department. What will he possibly say to the chief? Recognizing that the project he is working on is running late and over budget makes him more afraid. But then he learns that his supervisor, a beloved mentor, will also be at the meeting. And it turns out his supervisor is great friends with the chief of the highway department from their days back at university. “Don’t worry,” the mentor assures the engineer, “I’ll take care of things.” Won’t the young engineer have much greater confidence to approach the chief in the presence of the chief’s friend?
Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus not only is a high priest but also a high priest in solidarity with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). To return to a verse we discussed earlier, Jesus speaks to God of the “body you have prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5). Christ came in a genuine human body, and he really did embrace life as one of us.
In order to be a faithful high priest, the author reasons, Jesus has to be able to sympathize with the people. He cannot do this if he has not experienced the same things they have experienced. And so he states quite carefully that Jesus learned obedience. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). This does not mean, of course, that Jesus had to learn to obey in the way we do—by ceasing to disobey God. It means that he needed to experience suffering and temptation firsthand to qualify as a high priest. Other verses make the same point in equally expressive language, that Jesus’ sufferings “perfected” him (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). The full meaning of “perfect” is not only “flawless” but also “complete.” Jesus was already flawless—but to be qualified as our high priest, he needed those sufferings to complete him for the job. How else could he genuinely relate to us as we struggle in this world day by day?
What is most encouraging here is that this suffering and learning took place in the setting of Jesus’ work. He does not come as a kind of a theological anthropologist who “learns” about the world in a detached, clinical way, or as a tourist popping by for a visit. Instead he weaves himself into the fabric of real human life, including real human labor. When we face struggles at work, we can then turn to our sympathetic high priest with the full assurance that he knows firsthand what we are going through.
The Nobel Foundation, "The Nobel Peace Prize 1983," http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1983/walesa-bio.html "Lech Walesa,"Encyclopedia Britannica Online, https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/634519/Lech-Walesa and Sarah K. Clarke, "Lech Walesa Tells His Story of Faith at Seton Hall," Newark (NJ) Star Ledger, December 5, 2005.