POPE JOHN PAUL II gambles by returning to Poland this week. The very fact that he is on his way indicates a measure of normalization sure to be useful to a communist regime that suspended full martial law only six months ago. By his presence he will be bestowing on Gen. Jaruzelski a secular blessing of sorts that will be noted around the world. Any gestures and concessions the general makes to him will be widely taken as steps deserving appropriate moderate response. If the pope can deal with post-Solidarity Poland, the authorities will argue to the Polish people and the Western world, how can you not deal in turn?

It seems condescending to say that this Polish- born pope needs to be warned of the risks in returning to Poland. Who can know better the possibilities and limits of bargaining with the regime? The pope cannot fail to draw crowds of a size and devotion inviting instant comparison with the public following available to Gen. Jaruzelski. These are John Paul's "divisions," the moral and political force endowing him and those Poles for whom he speaks, not least Lech Walesa, with legitimacy. He will have a public forum and presumably also a private opportunity with Gen. Jaruzelski to press his and the Polish bishops' demands for the release of political prisoners and for recognition of the people's right to speak through their own true representatives.

Gen. Jaruzelski takes his own risks in allowing the return of the man whose electric first visit as pope, in 1979, catalyzed the popular mood that produced Solidarity. He has been easing certain aspects of martial law--though, in a conspicuous exception, the threat of trial still hangs over former members of the Workers Defense Council (KOR) and some Solidarity officials. For his pains, he is under evident pressure from some Polish colleagues and from their Soviet allies. The two groups view the imminent visit with evident misgivings.

But Gen. Jaruzelski is under pressure, too, from Western countries, including the United States. They have indicated they are waiting for more advances before lifting the sanctions they imposed in response to the declaration of martial law. Poland's prospects of coping with its horrendous economic situation rest not only on winning more trust from the Polish people but on shedding the regime's status as a pariah in the West. The pope's visit is the key.