Why was Jesus criticized for breaking with tradition and opposed by the religious elites?
Things are getting dicey. The fact that the religious elites (scribes and Pharisees) united in this attack and came all the way from Jerusalem to speak to Jesus, indicates the seriousness of their purpose. It is likely that this committee represented the leaders of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
Their accusation about “washing hands” had nothing to do with cleanliness. They were referring to the ceremonial washings of the rigidly orthodox Jews. It was bad enough that Jesus and His disciples mingled with outcasts, but they did not even seek to be purified! Of course, in making this accusation, these religious elites were forcing Jesus to deal with the very foundation of their religious faith. If Jesus rejected the sacred traditions of the nation, then He was a heretic!
I fall into the trap of thinking that if I just follow the rules, I will be seen as good in the eyes of God. That is a big error. My journey with Jesus must start with faith in Him. From there on, I must follow the commands of my Master to love but I must start with faith.
Here is a paradox: the Jews sought for righteousness but did not find it, while the Gentiles, who were not searching for it, found it! The reason? Israel tried to be saved by works and not by faith. They rejected “grace righteousness” and tried to please God with “Law righteousness.”